Deeper into Jeopardy! XLV: Caves – $400

Happy 7000th episode, Jeopardy! To celebrate, we’ll spelunk into a category from that game, all about CAVES. Secure your ropes, don your helmet-with-a-lamp-on-it, and troglodytes.

Jeopardy! category: CAVES (20-5-2015)

$400 clue: Bracken Cave in Texas is home to the world’s largest colony of Mexican free-tailed these

Correct response

The gist: With 20,000,000 occupants,* its a good thing they’re only around for half the year. Every year from March to October, millions of Mexican free-tailed bats roost in the cave, having migrated north to avoid the sweltering summer of its namesake nation – although the species ranges all the way down to northern Patagonia. The cave is owned and administered by the non-profit Bat Conservation International (in fact, the cover story of the most recent issue of the BCI’s magazine is about Bracken Cave) It’s is a birthing site for the bats – so all those bats aren’t flying all the way from Mexico, unless you count the fetuses inside the mothers. sees innumerable bats exit the cave in the evening heading south to intercept similarly huge numbers of prey insects, many of which are agricultural pests that would otherwise harm the region’s crops.

Bracken Cave isn’t the only site in Texas known for its Mexican free-tailed bats. The Congress Avenue Bridge is a popular site in Austin, Texas (the state capital, by the way), which boasts the “world’s largest urban bat colony.” The bats’ nightly feeding has become a tourist attraction for the city, with the hundreds of thousands of individuals easily visible at dusk either from on the bridge or from the shores of the lake that the bridge crosses. Another colony lives under a bridge in Houston. Their popularity and ubiquity in the state has led to them being named the state’s official flying mammal (the official large mammal is the longhorn, and small mammal is the armadillo).

Photograph of Mexican free-tailed bats leaving Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, to feed

The clue: I suspect that if you asked most people to name an animal known to inhabit caves, most would say bats, conjuring the image of thousands hanging upside-down with their wings wrapped around them. In that sense, this clue is really a gimme, even if you don’t know about the cave or the Mexican free-tailed bat at all.

In Jeopardy!: As always, three-letter words are basically unsearchable in the J!Archive. But a search for “bat” and “cave” gives us 22 clues. Most of them amount to “here’s a cave, what lives in it,” like this clue, but there are eight clues about Carlsbad Caverns, another large colony of the critters.

*Though this figure is questionable, it’s definitely a lot.

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