5 Places in California To Go a Little Batty
Originally Published in San Francisco Chronicle Travel Section.
Whether it's winged vampires, flying rodents or Bruce Wayne's alter ego, misrepresentations of these shy, intelligent creatures are plenty. Bats aren't blind, and only three species - none of which live in California - feed on blood. What's best: Bats make up one-quarter of the Earth's mammal species, playing a crucial role in our ecosystem for pest control and pollination.
Sadly, a disease called white-nose syndrome is rapidly spreading through the U.S., threatening to drive certain already-rare species to extinction and eradicate some of the most common bat species locally. Sink your teeth into these five places before they disappear into the dark forever.
1. Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, Davis
Roughly a quarter of a million bats live under the Yolo Causeway, a 3-mile-long elevated viaduct on Interstate 80. These Mexican free-tailed bats live under the concrete bridge in 1-inch crevices, similar to the cave rock of their natural habitat. Every summer, the Yolo Basin Foundation organizes a dozen family-friendly tours, where you can watch the bats emerge to hunt insects just before sunset. Book with Corky Quirk, the foundation's bat expert. 45211 County Road, 32B (Chiles Road). (530) 902-1918. www.yolobasin.org/event_battalks.htm.
2. Lava Beds National Monument, Tulelake, Siskiyou County
Caves, cliff faces and trees make happy homes to 14 species of bats at Lava Beds, some migrating, some roosting there year-round. It's best to spy them at dusk from May through September at cave entrances or at the edge of lava tube trenches. The park protects certain sensitive caves, and visitors should be mindful not to enter those marked closed. 1 Indian Well Headquarters. (530) 667-8113. www.nps.gov/labe/naturescience/bats.htm.
3. Gallery of California Natural Sciences, Oakland
For an interactive bat experience, this is the place. Ogle the big ears of the pallid bat hanging from the ceiling as you crawl through a lava tube, and explore a life-size diorama of Mount Shasta caves. Or examine the specimens under a microscope to compare teeth and skull sizes. Traditional exhibits feature preserved Mexican free-tailed bats and the California myotis. 1000 Oak St. (510) 318-8400. http://museumca.org/gallery-california-natural-sciences.
4. Paxton Gate, San Francisco
This oddities shop, originally inspired by landscape designers with a love for natural sciences, is creeping with insects and other fascinating specimens. From hanging, freeze-dried sleeping bats and mounted bat heads to full skeletons of a common bat, there's something for every mad scientist. 824 Valencia St. (415) 824-1872. www.paxtongate.com.
5. Los Angeles Public Library
To coax kids away from the creepy-crawly stigma attached to these creatures, libraries bring back the cool. LAPL boasts the largest general overall holdings of any library in California. On bats, the catalog includes more than 100 works of juvenile literature, 85 of which are nonfiction. Popular fiction reads include Janell Cannon's "Stellaluna." 630 W. Fifth St. (213) 228-7000. www.lapl.org.