AUSTIN, Texas — It's the season for bats under Austin's Congress Avenue Bridge. From now until fall, the flying mammals will leave the bridge nightly in search of food. Merlin Tuttle has been studying and taking pictures of bats for decades.

"They are incredible animals, not just because they're valuable to us, but also they're incredibly sophisticated," said Tuttle.

He runs Merlin Tuttle's Bat Conservation. His goal is to educate the public on the winged creatures while dispelling myths. One story started swirling in the 1980s.

"Austin was making national and international headlines coast to coast, saying hundreds of thousands of rabid bats were invading and attacking the citizens of Austin," said Tuttle.

The panic began after renovations were done to the Congress Avenue Bridge more than 40 years ago.  The work included crevices underneath the bridge, which attracted the bats. Tuttle moved to the Capital City to let people know the bats were not harmful.

"I absolutely assure you these bats were headed for doom had I not shown up when I did and disabuse people of their fears. I relocated to Austin to center my conservation activities here because this was such a spectacular and wonderful event and so valuable to Austin," said Tuttle.

As it turned out, the bats brought in millions of tourist dollars while eating tons of pesky insects.

"There have been probably more bats living here in Austin than there have been people since the founding of Austin. And not one person has yet been attacked or contracted a disease from a bat. Bats have a heck of a record," said Tuttle.<