During summer nights in northwest Oklahoma, visitors gather together near the small town of Freedom for a spectacle you'll never see under the city lights. Rather, this nightly event culminates with at least a million bats emerging from their cave to feast on literally tons of insects.
These annual summer get-togethers are known as the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Selman Bat Watches. They are held every weekend in July at the Selman Bat Cave Wildlife Management Area, where the Selman Bat Cave attracts migrating Mexican free-tailed bats every year. The Wildlife Department purchased the area around the bat cave in 1996 because of its ecological importance to the Mexican free-tailed bat. According to Hickman, the cave is important because it is one of only five major sites in Oklahoma that is used by females to raise their young.
Each night's viewing activities are limited to 75 visitors who are randomly drawn from a pool of mailed-in registration forms, which will be available online at wildlifedepartment.com beginning May 29. Hopeful viewers must print, complete and mail their registration form to the Wildlife Department at Bat Watch Program, P.O. Box 53465 Oklahoma City, OK 73152 between May 29 and June 7. Only mailed registration forms post-marked by June 7 will be accepted, and instructions for completing the form should be read carefully to ensure correctly completed registration. Successful registrants will receive an e-mail confirmation and a packet in the mail. The cost is $10 for admission ($5 for children 8 – 12 years old).
"Given the popularity of this event, the Department is using this approach to streamline its registration process," said Melynda Hickman, wildlife diversity biologist for the Wildlife Department. The bats' evening emergence is the highlight of a Bat Watch, but there is more to the evening than simply watching bats. Buses take visitors to the Selman Bat Cave Wildlife Management Area, usually closed to the public, where they learn facts about bats and the prairie community. There also is an optional nature hike before the bats emerge. Also optional, on cloudless evenings, staff and telescopes from the University of Central Oklahoma's Selman Living Laboratory will be at the observatory to assist stargazers after a bat watch has concluded.
More information and details about the Selman Bat Watch can be found online at wildlifedepartment.com or by calling (405) 424-0099.