When the sun hits the horizon, the bats hit the sky. During the summer, the Selman Bat Cave, located in the prairies near Woodward, is home to more than one million Mexican free-tailed bats. Every evening, the bats – all together and all at once – head out for dinner, blotting out the sunset and wowing observers. It’s quite a show, and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation makes it available to the public during July.
“It’s impressive. I’ve been doing this 15 years and I never get tired of it. It’s just unbelievable to see that many of any wildlife species together and to see something that was taking place 100 years ago take place today exactly the same way. It’s amazing,” says Selman Bat Watch director and wildlife diversity biologist Melynda Hickman.
After wintering in Mexico these very small female Mexican free-tailed bats make a 2,000-mile journey north each year to deliver their pups. During the summer they can be found in one of 17 caves in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado or Kansas. Each mother returns to the cave where she was born.
“They black out the sky, and the sky’s pretty big out in western Oklahoma,” says Hickman. “It’s like a river of movement through the air. But what will really knock your socks off is the sound. You can hear their wings. It’s like a rushing river of sound. It’s unbelievable.”
The bats’ dinner consists of insects such as moths, mosquitoes, cucumber and June beetles and leafhoppers. Some bats consume more than 3,000 mosquitoes each night. Collectively, they make a meal out of more than 10 tons of flying pests during each outing.
Potential bat watchers must register for the Selman Bat Watch. Registration forms became available on the Department’s web site, www.wildlifedepartment.com, on May 31. Registration and payment must be postmarked no later than June 7. Available viewing times start on July 7 and end on July 30. Viewings take place on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for kids. Making the registration deadline does not guarantee attendance. Each viewing is limited to 75 people, chosen at random from the numerous registrations.