Bats are another significant group of pollinators, though their impact is confined to the desert southwest and Latin America. Recently one South American bat became my favorite pollinator.
The first episode of a new series on the National Geographic channel, "Untamed Americas," focused on mountain forests. The program featured, among other things, the tube-lipped nectar bat. The small, inconspicuous bat was only discovered in 2005 by Dr. Nathan Muchhala's research team. They were studying other nectivorous bats when they discovered this amazing little creature.
It lives in the cloud forests of Ecuador, Columbia and Bolivia and nectars at a type of bellflower in the familiy Campanulaceae. The plant does not even have a common name, and it's far from a typical flower.
This bellflower is a green tube about 3.5 inches deep and opens only at night. It produces lots of nectar and a strong odor, which helps tube-lipped nectar bats find it. The bat is only about 2.5 inches long. Getting nectar from this flower seems impossible -- until you see the bat's tongue.
On the first episode of "Untamed Americas" (check listings for when it repeats), amazing footage shows the bat sipping nectar from what must be a glass tube inserted into a flower. As the bat hovers to drink, it unfurls its 3.3-inch tongue. Its tongue is longer than its body. If we had such tongues, they would be nine feet long!
When not sipping nectar, the tube-lipped nectar bat stores its tongue in its rib cage. Only anteaters, which use extremely long sticky tongues to capture ants, store their tongues in a similar manner.
To promote pollinators in your own backyard, the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC, www.pollinator.org) suggests not using herbicides and planting a garden just for pollinators. Extensive planting guides can be downloaded at the NAPPC website.
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033 or by email at sshala...@aol.com.