August 2007, Volume 5, Issue 8

Bats in the News

Burning Sugar

A little nectar-feeding bat from Latin America metabolizes sugar more than three times as fast as a human athlete – and probably faster than any other mammal on Earth, BBC News reports.

Scientists from Germany and the United Kingdom said Pallas’ long-tongued bats need to burn sugars at a remarkable rate because “they hover like hummingbirds, and this kind of flight uses up a great deal of energy.”
The bats spend each night flying from flower to flower, hovering briefly over each one to drink the sugary nectar inside, BBC News said. A Pallas’ long-tongued bat can eat one and a half times its weight in nectar each night.
This appetite makes such bats invaluable as pollinators of many plants. While reaching for nectar, their faces are dusted with pollen, which is then carried along to other flowers on their route.
The research by Christian Voigt, of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany, and Professor John Speakman, of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland) described their research in the journal Functional Ecology.
Pallas’ long-tongued bats (Glossophaga soricina), found across Central and South America, are very small, weighing about 10 grams each(less than two U.S. quarters).
The researchers used captive bats in their study, feeding them sugar spiked with a harmless, stable version of carbon called carbon-13. By measuring the amount of carbon-13 in the bats’ exhaled breath, BBC News said, they could determine how quickly and how much sugar was being converted to energy.
“We found that nectar-feeding bats made use of the sugar they were drinking for their metabolism within minutes after drinking it,” the scientists report. “After less than half an hour they were fueling 100% of their metabolism from this source.”
The highest rates for humans are found in top athletes, who can fuel up to 30 percent of their metabolism directly from power drinks, the scientists told BBC News.
Most animals convert the bulk of the carbohydrates they consume to fats or a type of sugar known as glycogen to save up an energy store that can be tapped as needed. Bats convert them straight to energy, “saving the costs of converting them to and from storage,” BBC News said.

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