Children, parents flee when colony disturbed
Several park visitors’ recent encounter with swarming bats at Luling’s Monsanto Park has residents weary of visiting the recreational area, but experts say that the occurrence is quite normal.
When Frank Fonseca says that at least 100 bats were spotted flying at head-level, he claims no exaggeration.
“About two weeks ago, I was at the park for my granddaughter’s birthday party,” Fonseca said. “We were enjoying the day when my grandsons noticed a group of bats flying from the sheltered area near the tennis courts.”
Fonseca says that his family was at the park all day, arriving at 11 a.m. and leaving at 6 p.m.
“We were out there for a good part of the day and saw the bats around 3:30 p.m.,” he added. “Most of them looked like baby bats. They were trying to fly, but kept falling.”
And some were flying very low, forcing Fonseca and the other party guests to wave their hands over their heads to keep the bats away.
The bats living in Monsanto Park are Mexican free-tailed bats. According to St. Charles Parish County Agent Rene’ Schmit, these bats are harmless to people and don’t normally carry rabies.
“The species is actually very important for the control of pest-insect populations,” Schmit said. “They consume enormous amounts of beetles and other insects such as mosquitoes.
“As a mammal, they have the potential to have rabies, but there’s no guarantee that they do.”
Mexican free-tailed bats are medium-sized – about 4 inches in length with a 13-inch wing span – and have fur that ranges from reddish to dark brown or gray in color. They have broad, black, forward pointing ears, and wrinkled lips.
Their tails extend more than one third beyond the tail membranes – most other bats have tails that are completely enclosed within the tail membranes. Their wings are also long and narrow.
“Most of these bats live in caves in the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, the West Indies, central Chile and Argentina,” Schmit said. “And the ones found in Louisiana migrated from Mexico and can be found in cave-like habitats such as under bridges, in attics or in abandoned buildings.”
Schmit points out that the Mexican free-tailed bats are attracted to the abundance of insects in the parish as result of a dry spring.
“These bats are like nomads. They travel based on the food supply available and the environment – and we had low rain levels this spring,” he said. “Most bats are nocturnal because of the heat and sunlight, but they will forge as needed to find insects, meaning they can be spotted during the day.”
Mexican free-tailed bats are widely regarded as one of the most abundant mammals in the United States, and human disturbance can affect their roost sites.
“Most of the bats will begin their evening hunt for insects near dusk, but can flock in swarms during the daylight hours if disturbed.”
Schmit says that he has received no reports of any serious bat problems in the area.