The Echo
Bats Love to Pollinate

The Echo

Bats Love to Pollinate

Published on June 18, 2018
Written by Merrill Read

Plants don't just simply grow, they have a lot of help. Whether it's sunlight, rich soil, or a good rain storm, there are plenty of support systems that help plants grow all over the world. For a lot of plants, a vital support system is bats.

Lesser long-nosed bat feeding on an agave blossom
(Leptonycteris yerbabuenae). 
Courtesy of Bruce D. Taubert 

There are more than 530 species of flowering plants that rely on bats as either their major or exclusive pollinators. Some of these plants include agave (which are harvested to supply the multimillion dollar tequila industry), bananas, and balsa trees (which produce the world's lightest timber). In fact, the relationship between bats and agave are so strong that bat populations fluctuate in size in accordance with the success of agave.

In order for plants to reproduce, pollen must be carried from the male stamen to a female pistil within a plant. Unfortunately, plants can't meet up easily as they are rooted to the ground, so they rely on others such as hummingbirds, bees, and bats to move their pollen for them.

The bat pollination process:
1. A bats flies to a plant to drink nectar from the flowers.
2. Pollen sticks to the hairs on their body.
3. The bat flies to another plant for more food.
4. The bat transfers the pollen from his body to the new plant.

Bats have an advantage as far as pollinating goes because they are very mobile creatures and can fly farther than the average insect. The Phyllostomid family of bats can transport up to 800m between trees in Puerto Rico and leaf-nosed bats (Phyllostomus sp.) in Brazil can transport pollen up to 18km between trees. Bat pollination increases the plants' resistance to pests and disease as well as assists in reproduction.

The relationship between bats and plants is give and take. Some plants, like four species of Venezuelan columnar cacti (Stenocereus griseus, Pilosocereus moritzianus, Subpilocereus repandus, and Subpilocereus horrispinus), have even evolved in size and shape to accommodate bat pollinators. If a couple of plants realize they must accommodate for bats due to the services they provide, then we as humans can too!

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