Unique Pollinator: Bat with a Tongue Longer Than Its Body

Bat expert to speak at special seminar Wednesday.

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

Special to Dixon Patch

Imagine a bat with a tongue longer than its body.

Nathan Muchhala who discovered and researches a tube-lipped nectar bat in
Ecuador with a tongue so long that it stores its tongue in its rib cage,
will speak on "Bats, Birds, and Bellflowers: The Evolution of Specialized
Pollination in the Neotropics" at the  UC Davis Department of Entomology
seminar, set from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, May 30 in 122 Briggs.

Muchhala, a postdoctoral fellow in the Stacey D. Smith lab, Department of
Biological Sciences, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, says the two-inch long
bat, Anoura fistulata, found in the Equadorian Andes, can extend its tongue
3.3 inches. Proportionately, its tongue is longer than any other mammal in

Muchhala, who discovered the new species several years ago in Ecuador,
described it in a 2005 paper. He published his work in 2006 in the journal
Nature and was featured in a 2006 article in The New York Times.

The bat nectars Centropogon nigricans, which has a corolla the same length
as the bat's tongue. The flowering plant is found in Mexico and much of
South America, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru.

Muchhala first traveled to the Neotropics with a Fulbright Fellowship in
1999, and has been returning for fieldwork on bat and bird pollination ever
since.  He received his doctorate in biology in 2007 from the University of
Miami, was a postdoctoral fellow with the University of Toronto from 2007 to
2010, and is currently a postdoctoral fellow with the University of
Nebraska.  He has authored 24 scientific papers.

"My research combines experiments and theory to explore the ecology and
evolution of plant-pollinator interactions, with a focus on vertebrate
pollination in the Neotropics," he said. "Experiments suggest that this bat
is involved in a coevolutionary race with the long-tubed flowers; tongue
elongation allows bats to reach more nectar, while flower elongation
maximizes pollen transfer."

At the seminar, Mucchala plans to show  "an amazing set of new footage from
National Geographic (slow-motion, close-up pollination shots)."

Graduate student Jessica Forrest of the Neal Williams lab is hosting the

In a webcast project coordinated by professor James R. Carey, the seminar
will be videotaped and can be accessed in about two weeks on UCTV.


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