Bats hibernate in winter to store their fat reserves until insects return in the spring. The Gypsum Hills of southern Kansas and the Alabaster Caverns of northern Oklahoma are two prime locations for viewing local bat populations.
When you think of creatures that hibernate, you may not necessarily think of bats. But bats hibernate, and many in this vicinity are already entering that stage to store their fat reserves during the cold, insectless months of winter.
In places like the Gypsum Hills to the south of Pratt and the Alabaster Caverns a little further south and west, bats are grouping in colonies within in underground caves, relying on the body heat of their fellows to keep warm and conserve energy.
It’s an annual rite along the 99th Meridian as sure as the birds heading south for winter.
My wife and I observed quite a few bats upon our recent visit to the Alabaster Caverns near Freedom, Oklahoma. Unless you know someone in the Red Hills who has bat caves and is willing to give you access to their land, you won’t find a closer place to see bats up close.
Prime bat hibernation time is from December to March. According to our tour guide at the Alabaster Caverns, the cave ceilings and walls in many parts of the caves will be lined with colonies of bats during this time. If you are impressed by large numbers of bats, then winter is the perfect time to visit the caverns, which have a fluctuating bat population that sometimes reaches 10,000.
During our mid-November visit, we saw several bat colonies, as well as individual bats, even taking pictures with a digital camera held within a few inches of the small creatures.
A few even flew overhead during the tour.
Five different species of bats call the caverns home, including the Cave Myotis, Western Big-eared Bat, Eastern Pipistrelle, Western Big Brown Bat, and Mexican Free-tailed Bat.
Most of the ones we saw on this visit were Cave Myotis.
Incidentally, for those who have some trepidation concerning bats, all of the ones found in the Alabaster Caverns are insectivorous. The only vampire bats found in the continental United States reside within a small area of southwestern Texas.