Pollination Isn't Just for the Birds and the Bees
By: Raquel Zuniga
Bats eat more than just insects, they also eat nectar. After the sun sets, moths and bats take on the role of a pollinator. Bats are important pollinators in tropical and desert climates. Bats, like the Northern Blossom Bat Macroglossus minimus from Australia, pollinate the flowers of plants that have evolved to produce nectar to attract them. Scientists believe that flowers have evolved a musty, rotten odor to attract bats as they are able to carry much larger amounts of pollen in their fur compared to other pollinators. The smell is created by Sulphur-containing compounds, which are not common in most floral aromas but have been found in the flowers that specialize in bat pollination.
As discussed in last week’s article, bats use echolocation to hunt insects/pest, but they also use echolocation to find flowers. Some plants have evolved acoustic features in their flowers that make the echo of the bat’s ultrasonic call more conspicuous to their bat pollinators. These flowers often have a bell-shaped concave form, which effectively reflect the sounds the bats emit, enabling the bats to easily find flowers in the dense growth of tropical rainforests.
Two species of nectar-feeding bats, lesser long-nosed bat and Mexican long-tongued bat, migrate north about a thousand miles from Mexico to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Over 500 species of flowers from 67 plant families depend on bats for pollination such as bananas, mangoes, and guavas. Additionally, the agave plant, the plant necessary to make tequila, depend on bats for pollination.
Our way of life is dependent on nectar-feeding bats. Bats pollinate many ecologically and economically important plants from around the world. The products that we value from these plants are more than just fruits, including fibers and timbers that we use every day. Flying foxes, nectar- and fruit- eating mega bats from Australia, pollinate the dry eucalyptus forests, which provide us with timber and oils that are shipped around the world.