Celebrating bats: Unexpected pollinators

By Sara Kangas

Bat Week is held each October 24 – 31 and raises awareness for how integral bats are to our ecosystems.

Bats are some of America’s best pollinators, but they’re often shrouded in mystery! Here are some facts about pollinating bats in the United States:

  1. Chiropterophily is the official term for pollination of plants by bats. The term comes from the scientific order for bats Chiroptera (from the Greek roots “chiro-” meaning hand and “ptera-” meaning wing because bats have membranous wings) and “-phila” meaning loving.
  2. Plants pollinated by bats often have pale, nocturnal flowers, because bats work the night shift of pollination! Whereas most flowers during the day have bright blooms to attract bees and other pollinating insects, bats are nocturnal, meaning they’re active at night. These pale flowers open at night to attract bats to the nectar at the base of their large, bell-shaped blooms, and close up during the day.
  3. Plants evolve to attract bats! Because they’re larger than insects, bats can carry a lot more pollen in their fur. Bats are also capable of flying much farther distances, so they can carry pollen to new areas, increasing the biodiversity of that ecosystem.
  4. Bats can sniff out plants – often the plants that bats seek out have a strong, musty odor. Plants secrete a melon-scented, rotten smell that helps bats who might not use echolocation to locate their meal.
  5. Bats pollinate some of your favorite foods almost exclusively! Saguaros, agave, cocoa, bananas, mangoes, guavas, and eucalyptus all rely on pollination from bats. Don’t worry about them getting intoxicated though – bats feed on the nectar of the agave plant, not the fermented agave that becomes tequila.
  6. Both of the American species of bats – the lesser long-nosed bat and the Mexican long-tongued bat (also known as the hog-tailed bat) are federally listed as endangered species.
  7. Bats can use echolocation to find flowers! Because the flowers they feed on are bell-shaped, the frequency emitted by the bats is reflected back to them, helping them locate the nectar they seek.
  8. Even bats who don’t eat fruit or nectar help plants! Bats that don’t eat fruit or nectar are insectivores who help to reduce the pest populations around crops.
  9. Disappearing nectar from your hummingbird feeders? Bats might be the culprit. Bats enjoy nectar just like hummingbirds, so they might be frequenting your feeders while you’re sleeping!
  10. Bats help promote healthy ecosystems with their poop! When bats eat fruit, they’re unable to digest the seeds inside, passing them through their poop, or guano, while they fly. Because the seeds are dropped with ready-made fertilizer, they’re able to grow in a healthy environment. Bats are responsible for helping preserve forests and for increasing their biodiversity in this way.

You can be a friend to bats in your own backyard! Follow this free guide to plant a bat garden or certify your bat habitat. Learn more about white nose syndrome, one of the biggest threats to American bat populations, and how you can volunteer to help bats in your hometown. You can also visit www.batweek.org and take a pledge to “Go to Bat for Bats” or find other activity suggestions to raise awareness in your community. Reach out to your conservation district to see how you can help pollinators, including bats, to thrive in your local ecosystem.

Sara Kangas is NACD’s communications and operations coordinator. She can be reached at sara-kangas@nacdnet.org.

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