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A Magnet And A Bit Of Tongue

A Magnet And A Bit Of Tongue

By Catherine Scullion

There is little doubt that bats are amongst the coolest animals in the world. They’ve inspired more horror stories than a chainsaw massacre, eat mosquitoes and are the principal pollinators of agave – the plant used to make tequila. Now two recently published studies have revealed even more fascinating attributes of our furry little friends.

Firstly a team from Princeton has shown that big brown bats rely on a magnetic compass in order to find their way home. They tracked the flight of bats exposed to field rotations of 90 degrees clockwise and anticlockwise relative to magnetic north and a control group with no magnetic inference.

It was found that the normally astute homing powers of the bats failed following the alteration of the field. Research leader, Richard Holland, appreciates the context of his study: "This finding adds to the impressive array of sensory abilities possessed by this animal for navigation in the dark."

A slightly more bizarre study was led by Nathan Muchhala at the University of Miami, Coral Gables. This team taught a rare, nectar-loving fruit bat, Anoura fistulata, to drink from a straw-like implement in order to measure the length of its formidable tongue.

The bat itself is no bigger than a mouse, so it came as some surprise when the tongue measured 3.4 inches: over one and a half times bigger than the bat itself! It is thought that the bat evolved such a mighty tongue in tandem with its favourite flower, which currently has tubular flowers of a similar length. The flower provides nectar for the bat in return for the bat taking on pollination duties. And where does such a tiny animal store its mighty tongue? In its rib-cage of course!

Both articles appeared in the journal Nature, and here’s a pic of Anoura fistulata in action (click for a bigger image):

To find out more about Catherine or read her other articles click here.

Title image: Adam Brokes
Anoura image: Murray Cooper


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16 Oct 2009
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