30 November 2012

The Ecuadorian Bat

Welcome back. Last June, I saw and tucked away an article about an unusual bat discovered in Ecuador in 2005. This week, I found the article, hanging upside down in my files.

Warning: If bats bother you, stop here, presuming you got this far. Please come back next week.

Bat Encounter

Permit me to set the stage for the unusual Ecuadorian bat. I’ve written about how our son’s cat, Henry, rescued our son from a bat that had furtively but unwisely crossed the threshold of our son’s apartment. On the other hand, I’ve never owned up to my own, similar bat encounter.

Eons ago, a peaceful evening in the living room of my Upstate New York home was disrupted by an unannounced, uninvited, suddenly appearing bat, circling at heights varying from near ceiling to where my head would be if I dared stand.

I owned no net; no towel was at hand. I did have a broom. Rising cautiously, I shouldered the broom as I once held a baseball bat. (You may recall my softball prowess.) With perfect aim and timing, I brought down the intruder with my first swing.


Wrong kind of bat,
different broom, but
I hope they help.
At that moment, I was hugely relieved to rid my home of this frantically flying, possibly rabid mammal. I was also proud that I hadn’t lost my ability to swing a baseball bat, albeit a broom.

Since the trespasser’s funeral, however, I’ve felt increasing remorse. I doubt the bat was rabid or aspiring to inhabit my living room. And who knew of the ecological and economic importance of bats? In those years, Batman dressed the part, yet Dracula was their only spokesperson.

Long-Tongued Bat

My dearly departed bat (I use “my” loosely) was nothing like the Ecuadorian bat (Anoura fistulata), which was the star of a video on National Geographic’s Untamed Americas. What is extraordinary about that bat is the length of its tongue, roughly one and a half times longer than its body.

Picture a 2 inch bat, with a 3.5 inch tongue. Or better, think about Uncle Frank, 6 feet tall. How would Frank manage his 9 foot long tongue? Stick it in a pocket? Lacking pockets, the bat stores its tongue inside its rib cage.

If you get by those images, you might wonder how or why the bat’s tongue got so long. The best bet is evolution or, in this case, co-evolution.

The bat is apparently fond of nectar from a foul-smelling flower (Centropogon nigricans) that has a long, tubular neck. The bat hovers hummingbird-like as its tongue reaches into the flower’s neck. While slurping up the nectar, the bat’s bobbing head collects pollen, which it deposits at the next flower it visits.

The co-evolutionary notion is that longer tubes cause increased bobbing, which causes more pollen to be collected, favoring the longer tubes. As longer and longer tubes developed over millennia, so too did longer and longer tongues. Sounds good to me.

Wrap Up

Whether or not you follow bat news, you may be aware that white-nose syndrome, a fungal infection detected in 2006, has decimated millions of North American bats. Although it’s too early to be sure, recent cave surveys hint that the bats might be adapting and rebounding.

That news along with my vow to lower my broom should brighten every bat’s night. Thanks for stopping by.

P.S.

Article (with video) on Ecuadorian bat:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/06/120611-bat-tongue-video-untamed-americas-science-longest/
Article on bats’ economic importance and threats from white-nose syndrome and wind turbines:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110331142212.htm
Wikepedia discussion of white-nose syndrome:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_nose_syndrome
Article on bats’ possible rebound:
http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765569915/Bats-rebound-in-NY-caves-first-hit-by-white-nose.html?pg=2

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