The misunderstood life of bats

Shelly Purdy /
A common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) a small bat strayed into a room.

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — One of the most enduring and scary Halloween costumes of all time is Count Dracula, the infamous vampire. Dracula comes complete with a black cape, sharp plastic vampire teeth and fake blood. He even has special powers that enable him to turn into a bat and quietly escape any sticky Halloween situation.  

It is perhaps because of the story of Dracula that bats have long had a bad reputation. The educators over at the Tahoe Institute for Natural Science are working to dispel some of the myths about bats: they do not all carry rabies; they don’t get trapped in people’s hair; they aren’t rodents; and they aren’t blind. In fact, bats do a lot of good for the environment. 

“There are 16 species of bats that occur in the Tahoe area,” said Will Richardson, TINS co-founder and executive director. “All of our bats are insectivorous, mostly eating bugs like mosquitoes, moths, and other flying insects, but a few, like the Pallid Bat, will actually pounce on spiders and centipedes and possibly even visit flowers and eat fruit, something they do elsewhere in their range. They’re all natural pest controllers and are essential to the health of the environment.”

Every year around Halloween, TINS takes their message about bats into classrooms throughout the region, especially those in second and third grades. They show the kids specimens of the different types of bats that live in Tahoe and teach them about the ecology and importance of these unique creatures. 

Bats are mammals, the only species of mammal that flies. Some bats can live 30-40 years or more. Often seen at dusk, and occasionally seen flying during the day, they are mostly nocturnal, but as Richardson says, “they like to get a good day’s sleep.” 

All of Tahoe’s bats hibernate in the wintertime, though most Tahoe bats migrate out of the region to do so. A few of our bats, however, hibernate locally, and warm spring weather can occasionally bring out active bats as early as March.

If you want to see lots of bats around Tahoe, focus on water shortly after sunset. Most bats like to take a drink when they wake up for the evening. 

“There are very few spots around Lake Tahoe that get really batty,” says Richardson. “There is one really good spot near the Tahoe City Marina where you can watch an evening emergence every night during summer, but I’m sure they’re long gone by Halloween. It’s best during July and August.”

Now that it’s October and nearing Halloween, your best bet is to be on the lookout for little Draculas on the hunt for candy treats. If your child’s class wasn’t lucky enough to schedule a visit from a TINS educator to learn about bats this year, they offer many other hands-on, place-based, in school and field trip programs throughout the year. Their curriculum aligns with next-generation science standards by grade level and focuses on everything from frogs to bugs, birds, mammals, geology, and more.

Founded in 2010, TINS is a member-supported nonprofit organization providing world-class education and research. For more information, visit

Shelly Purdy works for East River PR, a public relations firm in Truckee

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