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McCarran Mexican freetail bats stay away from planes

Updated October 3, 2017 - 9:52 pm

The sun was setting behind the Strip on a recent Sunday when the Road Warrior had just flown into McCarran International Airport after a few relaxing days in San Diego.

While briefly taking in the scenery from the sixth floor of the airport’s parking garage near Terminal 1, a flurry of small winged creatures flew past. Bali Hai Golf Club site Las Vegas stadium

It wasn’t a bird, and it wasn’t a plane.

“I see you met our bats,” a cheery parking attendant said while chuckling at my look of astonishment.

Mexican freetail bats took up residence about 25 to 30 years ago at the adjacent employee parking garage, where they roost within cozy, 2-inch nooks behind concrete panels lining the southern end of the structure. The bats typically migrate south for the winter but might have stuck around at McCarran because the desert sun keeps the garage warm year-round.

Those conditions have made the garage, built above the taxicab staging area in 1985, an unintentional but ideal habitat for the winged mammals.

And, airport officials have left the creatures alone, seeing no need for eradication.

“I see absolutely no disadvantage to having them at the airport,” said Brett Riddle, a professor at UNLV’s School of Life Sciences, who issued a report about the airport’s bat habitat in 1994.

“They don’t fly in your hair, they stay away from the airplanes, and they tend to stay out of your way,” Riddle said. “They’re harmless, and I think it’s pretty awesome that they’re still here.”

There is no official count of McCarran’s bat population, but they could number in the thousands with a tendency to come out around dusk.

Even if you don’t spot one, signs of their presence are everywhere. Black bat droppings, known as guano, cover the railings and walls of the airport’s employee parking lot. Professional crews clean the mess four times a year.

If you have some extra time before your flight, take a moment to stop and listen. That squeaky chirp echoing through the cavernous garage isn’t a parakeet or a baggage cart with a loose wheel. It’s probably one of the bats.

“If you’re not aware of them, then you just don’t notice them,” airport spokeswoman Christine Crews said.

The bats primarily eat insects and have been spotted feeding on some of the bugs flying around the long light beam shooting from the top of Luxor’s pyramid during warm weather, Crews said. The light attracts the insects, which in turn draws the bats.

“It’s like a buffet for everyone,” Crews said.

The airport might be an appropriate home for the Mexican freetail bats. They’re known as the “jets” of the bat world, capable of flying up to 60 mph with a wingspan reaching up to 14 inches.

Mexican freetails are found as far north as Oregon and as far south as Argentina. Closer to home, colonies have been discovered in the railroad tunnel hiking trail near Lake Mead and beneath the McCarran Boulevard bridge spanning the Truckee River in Reno.

“They seem to be doing quite well at the airport,” said Cris Tomlinson, a biologist for the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

“If you don’t bother them, then they won’t bother you,” Tomlinson said. “It’s just another oddball thing about McCarran.”

Signal adjustments

A few of you raised issues about the timing of traffic signals at several intersections spread across Clark County.

Cheryl from Las Vegas noted that the signal cycle often skipped the drivers on southbound Jones Boulevard wanting to turn left onto Desert Inn Road, prompting some people to simply run the red light.

Joe, a maintenance worker for Alaska Airlines, regularly encountered an unusually long red light on southbound Eastern Avenue, though there was no cross traffic at Hacienda Avenue during his 4:30 a.m. commutes to McCarran.

And Andrew from Las Vegas said that the red light was too long for drivers on northbound Durango Drive waiting to turn left onto Twain Avenue, prompting some drivers to detour down a small, residential street to avoid the situation.

In all three cases, your letters prompted traffic engineers to make the appropriate signal adjustments for a smoother drive, county spokesman Dan Kulin said.

Another flashing yellow request

Nancy from North Las Vegas wanted to know whether city officials could install a flashing yellow left-turn arrow for the signal at eastbound Cheyenne Avenue and Valley Drive.

“Right now, you can turn left on a green arrow only, creating a long line of cars,” Nancy wrote in an email to the Road Warrior.

Delen Goldberg, a spokeswoman for the city, said the request will be reviewed to see if it makes sense and whether existing signal equipment would be able to handle this change.

Questions and comments should be sent to roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com. Please include your phone number. Follow @RJroadwarrior on Twitter.

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