Monday, 15 September 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Oral pleasure, bat stylie

Anoura_fistulata_2By Emma Townshend

As I said yesterday I have got a slight obsession with University of British Columbia's Botany Photo of the Day. 

At the end of August, though, editor Daniel Mosquin surpassed himself by posting pictures of the world's only plant evolved to be pollinated by a single species of bat. The tube-lipped nectar bat rolls out this extraordinary tongue to get at a nectar that is right down the bottom of that long, long tube. The plant can only be pollinated by the tube-lipped bat, because no other species has a tongue long enough.

The bat-flower expert who took the stunning picture is Dr Nathan Muchhala of the University of Toronto: his hilarious webpage features loads more photos of bats living it up, plus one of him looking not dissimilar to my own idea of Bruce Wayne. You can even listen to him on a Nature Podcast talking about how these bats stow their giant tongues inside their rib cages. (Rather them than me.)

The really important bat lesson, though, is that the flower and the bat together represent a great example of co-evolution. The plant can only be pollinated by that one bat, and the bat's tongue means it's adapted to feed on that single plant. so each species is entirely dependent on the other. 

The word for pollinated by bats is Chiropterophilous, as The Human Flower Project, another wonderful blog, points out. I don't think I even knew that flowers could be pollinated by bats. But apparently, what bats are looking for is musky-smelling, pale-coloured, smooth waxy flowers which produce their nectar at night. Sexy.

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