GAINESVILLE (FOX 13) - There's a place down by Lake Alice at the University of Florida where the faithful gather to celebrate nocturnal creatures. Some are young, some old, but all have one thing in common: An appreciation for the beauty of bats in flight.
Paul Ramey with the Florida Museum of Natural History tell us bat-watching has become something of a tourist attraction. "It's not unusual to have 50, 75, to 100 people out here at night when there's good weather," Ramey explained.
But it wasn’t like this in the beginning.
Some years ago, the University of Florida had a problem. Bats were living in the athletic facilities and some dorms, and that caused all sorts of issues. The solution? They built the largest man-made bat habitat in the world.
“We'd capture them, not harming them, and then take them down, put them in the bat house,” recalled Bill Properzio with the UF Environmental Health and Safety Office, who helped lead the project. "They'd stay a day and then leave.”
But eventually the bats warmed up to their new digs after over three years of coaxing.
"When people ask me what I think eventually led to the bats taking up residence in the bat house, I think it was because more and more of the other places on campus they were being excluded from," Ramey said.
Now there are three bat houses. The first was built 26 years ago. As their numbers grew, a second opened in 2010. The latest is less than a year old at a cost of just under $80,000. And the total bat population has reached more than 400,000. The majority are the Brazilian freetail species, with a few little brown bats mixed in.
And as they fly away each night to feed on insects and quench their thirst in the nearby lake, spectators are left to marvel at these masters of the night.
LINK: Watch the bats on live webcams at www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/bats/streaming/