A state bat? You bet!

Michael Minden / BCI

The Pallid bat, Antrozous pallidus. Photo courtesy of Bat Conservation International and Minden Pictures.

Thanks to a Bay Area wildlife ecologist and a 12-year-old girl, California might get its own official state bat this year — the Pallid bat.

On Feb. 17, state Sen. Caroline Menjivar, D-San Fernando Valley, introduced Senate Bill 732 to name the Pallid bat as the California State Bat. It was the culmination of six years of effort, starting with ecologist Dave Johnston and ending with 12-year-old Naomi D’Alessio.

“Pallid bats eat pests like beetles, moths, spiders and scorpions,” said Johnston, who has lived in Saratoga for decades. “Bats save farmers in California $1.3 billion per year.”

Pallid bats are not just insectivores, but pollinators helping preserve the food supply. Moreover, he said, Pallid bats have a golden coat, “perfect for the Golden State.”

Defying unrealistic movie stereotypes of bats, the tiny critters only weigh about an ounce. For people living in the Bay Area, there might be Pallid bats in their own backyard, or at least nearby — unless they live in San Francisco, Johnston said.

“Pallid bats occur in all Bay Area counties except San Francisco County, where they are presumed to have been extirpated (i.e., they used to occur there before SF was developed into the city it is today),” the wildlife ecologist wrote in an email.

A colony of roosting Pallid Bats (Antrozous pallidus) at Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, southeastern Arizona. Photo Credit: Geoff Gallice, courtesy of California Bat Working Group.

Johnston began campaigning for the Pallid bat in 2017 and managed to get a Senate resolution passed in 2018, but wasn’t able to move the needle any further. He’s excited that young Naomi D’Alessio, age 12, got a bill on the Senate agenda.

The sixth-grader at Holmes Middle School in Los Angeles became interested in bats when she and her father Matt took a class in California bat natural history at San Francisco State University in 2022. Naomi’s mother had worked on Menjivar’s campaign, so Naomi had the senator’s ear. Naomi got Menjivar excited about the pallid bat, and the rest is history.

The pallid bat is as diverse as Californians, according to Naomi. “Pallid bats live in California’s deserts, oak woodlands, coastal redwood forests, and high up into the pine forests of the Sierra Nevada mountains,” says a quotation from Naomi in SB 732.

Given that California has, of course, a state flower, a state bear, a state amphibian (the red-legged frog) and, of all things, a state dinosaur (Augustynolophus morrisi), it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to have a state bat. However, passage of the bill is by no means a sure thing, Johnston said.

“If enough people write in, there’s a chance,” he said.

The bill has been endorsed by the California Bat Working Group, a statewide group of biologists and experts focused on bat conservation with a Bay Area chapter. The bill is in the early stages in the Legislature, and there’s less than a week left to urge lawmakers to vote in favor.

In order to be considered, emails in support of the bill must arrive by Tuesday, April 18. To find one’s state senator, visit https://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/. People can visit the website of the California Bat Working Group, https://www.calbatwg.org, for more information.

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