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.

The bill to designate the pallid bat as the California state bat is pending in the Legislature; the public must urge lawmakers to vote for it by April 18.

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.

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 is excited that young Naomi D’Alessio got a bill on the Senate agenda.

A reflection of California

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 quote from SB 732, which the 12-year-old, a sixth-grader at Holmes Middle School in Los Angeles, wrote herself.

She 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.

If one day we should tire of the California grizzly bear — as it did of us when it went extinct — the pallid bat might swoop in to save the day as the official state animal. At least, that is how it is depicted in this mockup of a California state flag created by Cal Poly Humboldt zoology professor and member of the California Bat Working Group, Joseph Szewczak. The flag includes a Merlin Tuttle photograph of a pallid bat carrying a scorpion, one of its preferred prey. (Joseph Szewczak via Bay City News)

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 the online portal and contact them through the provided email form.

More information about the pallid bat campaign can be found on the California Bat Working Group website.