Here you’ll find information on our field trip to the 40th St Bat Tunnel! For information regarding the 24th and Arizona Biltmore Circle location, click here!
Did you know that Phoenix has a colony of about 10,000-20,000 Mexican Free-Tailed Bats, roosting right in the middle of the city? At the 40th Street and Camelback canal, these bats take over the overflow tunnel from the months of May through October, as they take care of their young, hunt for food, and take advantage of the abundant hunting opportunities throughout the summer.
Since Kat and I learned about the bats and this bat tunnel last year, we have taken several trips out to see them. We wanted to go out one last time before they migrate south for the winter, and this time, we decided to invite other Phoenix families to come join us! The bats are so cool to see, we wanted to share the excitement of learning about them and watching them with others. So, we decided to set up our very first field trip!
We put up an event page on facebook, which was shared by several of our friends (thanks , everyone!). Soon, we had 16 families coming, which ended up amounting to between 30-40 people! That’s a lot of kids and grown ups, wanting to come out and go on a batty adventure! We were thrilled to see so many smiling faces out there, there were so many people who were excited to see the bats!
Because Kat and I had spent so much time last year learning about bats and how fascinating they are, I wanted to share that with everyone as a part of the field trip. I gave a little presentation, talking about the differences between megabats and microbats, as well as giving examples of each (the flying fox and bumble bee bats are really interesting to talk about, being the largest and smallest bats in the world, respectively.) We talked about how not all bats are carnivorous, megabats eat fruit and nectar, and use their great sense of sight and a keen sense of smell to locate their food.
We also went over microbats and how, since they are carnivorous and hunt moving prey, they need to rely on something other than sight to track their food. While microbats can indeed see (bats are not blind!), there isn’t enough light at night for them to be able to see well. So, instead of relying on light waves to see, they rely on sound!
They “see” through the process of echolocation (like dolphins and whales!). They use their nose leaves to send out chirps or pulses of sound, these sound waves will either keep going forwards (in which case the bats have a clear path to fly in), or bounce back to them. When they bounce back, the bat needs to determine what is in front of them (is it a house? A person? A tree? Is it food?). They do this with their ears! They have ridges in their ears that focus those sound waves so that their brain can scan them to give a detailed 3D image of their surroundings.
Finally, I talked to everyone about the anatomy of bat wings (they’re like giant hands – they have fingers in their wings!), flight, and their expert maneuverability. Bats, because of the anatomy of their wings (they have hands, with really long fingers!), can flap each wing independently of each other, and can fold them in a variety of ways. This allows them to make incredibly sharp turns in almost no time. They can flip 180 degrees and back again in less than 2 seconds! If you’ve ever seen a bat in flight, what looks like erratic flitting about is actually determined expert maneuvering!
Everyone was really interested in hearing about the bats, and watching them emerge from the tunnel to hunt! During the presentation, the kids were really excited to share what they knew about bats! Some kids already knew about echolocation, and how other mammals use it to find their babies in the dark. Other kids knew about flying, nocturnal habits, and the coloring of bats! They got a BIG kick out of the flying fox bat and how huge it was, and everyone really seemed to enjoy hearing about the mommy bats and bat pups (and really, who wouldn’t? Bat mommies and babies are adorable).
The biggest event was of course, the bats emerging from the tunnel! What started with a small scattering of bats leaving the poop filled walls of the overflow tunnel, ended up with a small pouring of thousands of Mexican Free-Tailed bats heading into the night to catch their dinner. The crowd grew quiet as they flew out, with kids and grown-ups alike giving loud whispers of excitement as some of the bats flew out of the tunnel and around our heads as they searched for food.
We had a fantastic turnout at our first field trip. I was SO incredibly happy to be able to share what we love about these bats with so many people in our community! It was so great to meet everyone, and to see the curiosity and excitement in these kids. It was great to see so many of you who are doing a marvelous job encouraging curiosity, a love of nature, and an excitement for life! Whether you are sharing it with their kids, or marveling in it yourselves, you all are awesome!
For information on the bat colony, as well as some information on the bats, their anatomy, how they find food, and some games to play with your kids before heading out, check out our batty learning adventure!
If you would like to go to the Phoenix Bat Tunnel, here are some tips:
The Bat Tunnel is located at the Overflow Tunnel off of 40th Street and Camelback, on the north side of the Canal. Parking is tricky here; there is a parking lot in a strip mall on the SW corner of 40th St and Camelback. You can find public parking in commercial spots around the area, but please pay heed to private and restricted parking lots.
Once parked, walk to the canal on 40th Street and Camelback. On the north side, you’ll head west for about 1/4 of a mile. Then you will see just off the path on the north side, a wide space with a black wrought iron fence. This is the bat tunnel! There is a huge viewing area here, along with posted signs from Game and Fish about the bats. You will also find plenty of jackrabbits and dragonflies, and you might even spot a red tailed hawk or two!
Bring plenty of water and sunblock, and don’t forget your camera!