Bats and agaves rely on each other for survival. Protecting and restoring agave habitat is critical, not just for bats, but for the ecosystems and communities that rely on them.
Bats & Agaves: A Love Story
Connected in Birth, Life, and Death
Bats and agave have a mutualistic relationship. Pregnant bats need the sweet nectar from agave plants to make their annual migratory journeys between central Mexico and the U.S. Southwest to give birth to a single pup.
Agaves depend on migratory bats to pick up pollen as they feed and to disperse pollen to help propagate new plants.
Climate change, habitat loss, and uncontrolled collection of agaves before they bloom to produce liquor have resulted in diminishing numbers of agaves and, in turn, devastating loss of bats.
The Agave Restoration Initiative, a binational collaboration of diverse partners, works to save bats, restore agave corridors, and support communities in sustainable agricultural and business practices.
We Need Bats. Bats Need Us.
Restoring agaves is a key step to conserving the nectarivorous bats and communities that rely on them.
Bat Conservation Strengthens Communities
Sustaining Economies & Ecosystems
Agaves have a long ethnobotanical history in religion and Mexican culture. Today, agaves are important resources, cultivated by farmers and harvested by rural communities to make products like tequila, mezcal, bacanora, agua miel, pulque, and agave syrup. The leaves, stalks, and rosettes of agaves are also used to make rope, paper, fabric, soap, and to feed livestock. Plus, agave plants have extending root systems which help stabilize soil and control erosion.
Alarmingly, extensive land-use changes, livestock grazing, drought, and other pressures are threatening agaves and the ecosystems that depend on them. Across deserts and mountain ecosystems in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest, we are helping unite communities to implement smart strategies that support and help grow local economies.
Bacanora, the “Little Bat” & Blooming Agaves
Agaves have sustained Osvaldo Coronado and his family for generations in the Sonoran region of Mexico. Osvaldo and his family produce bacanora, a distilled spirit similar to tequila and mezcal, derived from agaves. Using sustainable farming practices, Osvaldo and his family have become model conservationists. As he says: “We raise a glass to the bats and the flowers, and to the interconnectedness of our lives.”
Honoring Heritage & Keeping Business Fruitful
Traditional methods of making tequila, mezcal, and bacanora cut off the stalk of the agave plant before it gets tall to keep sugars in the base of the plant. The capon (cutting) removes the blooms that attract and feed bats which, in turn, diminishes the number of bats available to pollinate and propagate new agaves. Colectivo Sonora Silvestre is working with agave producers to improve ways of agave harvesting while sustaining livelihoods.
Preserving deserts for future generations
Preserving vast deserts in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest depends on sustaining vegetation and pollinators. Agaves feed desert wildlife and stabilize soil. Bats help propagate agaves and cacti. Millions of acres are at risk without human engagement in collaborative practices. Preserving desert landscapes is essential for healthy ecosystems, clean water, and thriving economies for future generations.
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Bats inspire action
Saving Bats by Planting Agaves
Dr. Kristen Lear, Bat Conservation International’s Agave Restoration Program Manager, is on a mission to save migrating bats. Her work entails encouraging and engaging diverse partners in planting corridors of agaves in the U.S. Southwest and Mexico to provide pregnant bats with enough nectar to fly hundreds of miles and give birth.
Dr. José Juan Flores Maldonado: Preserving Mexico’s Landscape
Read Dr. Maldonado's Story
With 20 scientific publications to his name and more than 60 citations in other scientific reports, Dr. José Juan Flores Maldonado is well known and respected for guiding important land management decision-making throughout Mexico. When he speaks about the importance of preserving agaves, Dr. Maldonado addresses the well-being of crop farmers, cattle ranchers, and other land users. Agaves are absolutely vital to the overall landscape of Mexico, he says.
Dr. Maldonado meets with crop farmers, cattle ranchers, and other land users. His advocacy is direct: agaves are part of Mexico’s cattle ranching history, past and present. As drought conditions worsen, due to climate change, the extending root systems of agaves are going to be crucial to Mexico’s future, he says.
In Mexico, land use decisions must consider the wild agaves, how they dot the landscape and provide sustenance to many types of wildlife, including bats. And Mexican spirit producers should be incentivized in growing agaves and adopting sustainable harvesting methods.
Francesca Claverie: Seeds for Success
Read Francesca’s Story
Quite likely, Francesca Claverie is the most charismatic, talkative, and persuasive native seed grower — ever. In the nursery she manages for the Borderlands Restoration Network (BRN) along the Arizona-Mexico border, Francesca is raising hundreds of agaves from seed each year to later be planted by Bat Conservation International and partners to assure blooming corridors for migratory bats.
Ask Francesca to talk about agaves and she is mutually cheerleader, proud mom, and scientist. “Agaves are essential to the health of deserts” is part of her advocacy. “Raising agave seedlings is a lot like raising children” is the tender nurturing part of her. “Preserving the genetic diversity of agaves and their ecosystems” is one of her scientific challenges.
It all starts with collecting seeds. How and when the collection is done is critical, she says. “It’s important that seeds from native plants are collected during specific times of year to achieve optimum germination. Keeping track of where the seeds come from is also imperative to preserve genetic diversity.”
Agave plants become large and striking but start as tiny, dark quarter-inch seeds. During germination, the seeds don’t just sit passively in the ground but turn the pointed part of the seeds upward. Leafy shoots that Francesca says look eerily like little alien arms first push through the earth. The seed points then emerge looking like little black ball caps. Raising agave takes patience, she says. From seed to planting can take as long as three years.
In the BRN greenhouses, including an old trailer converted into a nursery, dozens of trays of sprouting seeds are wrapped with wire mesh or hang from the ceiling to protect them from rodents and other desert wildlife. Agaves are juicy with water content and everything — deer, rabbits, javelinas, and rodents — want to eat them, says Francesca.
Agave seed sprouts are very tender but also surprisingly hardy, Francesca says. “During one frost, our agave seedlings turned pink but surprisingly didn’t turn to goo like most succulents.” She says that BCI-donated heaters have been vital in speeding up the growing cycles of clonal agave, vegetative off-shoots that also propagate new plants.
“One way or another, with dedicated effort and patience, growing and planting agaves is our success story.”
Dr. Ana Ibarra: We Can All Do Our Part
Read Dr. Ibarra’s Story
Dr. Ana Ibarra, Bat Conservation International’s Strategic Advisor for Endangered Species in Mexico and Latin America, is on the road three of every four weeks, often traveling between a cave in Central Mexico that serves as the only known winter roost and mating location for dwindling numbers of Endangered Mexican long-nosed bats and maternity caves in Northern Mexico that shelter female long-nosed bats and their newborn pups. By her estimation she logs 20,000 miles each year to save this fragile bat species. She’s quick to add that everyone can engage, in some way, in bat conservation.
Reversing the staggering loss of long-nosed bats is Dr. Ibarra’s highest priority right now. Born and raised in Veracruz, Mexico, Ibarra travels the country monitoring the status of bats and meeting with communities, landowners, conservation groups, and … well, anyone who will listen. She’s convincing. She estimates that more than 100 people in Mexico are actively engaged in various ways in saving long-nosed bats from extinction.
Mexican long-nosed bats were considered in peril in 1988 and added to the U.S. list of Endangered Species. Then, several roosts previously occupied by a few thousand individuals had only a few bats or none at all. Today, Dr. Ibarra and other bat conservationists estimate that half of the 26 historically known roosts are empty. Short-term success, she says, will be to stabilize the numbers of long-nosed bats that currently exist. Long-term goals are to recover the roosts that are now empty.
Mexican long-nosed bats — curious-looking with short ears, elongated snouts, and long thin tongues that dart quickly into agave blooms — have a lot working against them, says Dr. Ibarra. They’re small, about the size of a human palm. They roost and mate in a single cave in the foothills of El Tepozteco near Mexico City, a scenic area that attracts thousands of tourists each weekend and has, in turn, accelerated residential and commercial development — threatening the cave structure and disturbing the wintering bats. On top of all that, female long-nosed bats migrate as many as 750 miles north each spring, nourished by flowering blooms, to give birth to a single pup. They return, flying hundreds of miles back to the roosting cave, following corridors of blooming plants.
Dr Ibarra is emphatic: “We must make certain that the migrating females can reproduce to sustain this species. One way to do that is to see that agaves and other flowering desert plants are accessible to migrating bats, and bountiful.”
Climate changes have altered flowering schedules and the impacts of human development have fragmented blooming corridors, says Dr Ibarra. Plus, the numbers of agaves across the desert are diminishing due, largely, to consumer demand for agave-based spirits like tequila, mezcal, and bacanora. Production of agave-derived alcohols becomes a problem when wild agaves are uncontrollably collected and stripped from the landscape, and when producers lose sight of the importance agaves have in maintaining healthy ecosystems, she says.
“We can all become bat conservationists by staying informed, getting involved with organizations that protect bats, and by using our power as consumers to only purchase sustainable products that support the conservation of bats and their habitats, says Dr. Ibarra.
Osvaldo Coronado: Bats, Agaves & A Good Life
Read Osvaldo’s Story
Life is good in northwestern Mexico, says Osvaldo Coronado, where he and his family produce an agave distilled spirit called bacanora. As daylight fades, Chile verdes cook slowly on the grill, and family and friends gather around the large wooden table on the veranda. Beyond the animated dinner conversation Osvaldo’s 24-acre farm stretches toward the sunset — a desert landscape dotted with leafy creosote bushes and gangly mesquite trees, and hundreds of Angustifolia Haw agave, also known as Agave Pacifica.
Centuries before, on the land Osvaldo’s family eventually came to own, agaves were a significant part of everyday life and cultural ceremonies for the indigenous Opata in the Sonoran Desert region. Today, Osvaldo’s family and many of his neighbors depend on wild agaves and the agaves they plant for their livelihoods.
Osvaldo, his wife Ana, and four of their seven adult children produce 200 liters of bacanora each year under the label of Siete Coronados Bacanora. They also run a thriving tasting room and retail shop that, in addition to selling bacanora products, offers arts and crafts from regional artists alongside some of the Opata arrowheads they find on their property.
Growing agave takes years of patience. Producing bacanora is a time-consuming eight-step process that begins with harvesting the hearts of agaves and then roasting them in underground pits lined with river rock, heated by mesquite. After roasting, the agaves are mashed into a pulp, fermented, and then distilled – twice. Like wine, bacanora is noted for its tasting notes and often valued for its production in small lots. Osvaldo calls bacanora “the pride of Sonora.”
Since 2018, Osvaldo and his family have been working closely with a regional non-profit organization, Colectivo Sonora Silvestre, to hone sustainable planting, harvesting and production practices. A significant part of his family’s success is, he says “respecting where our good fortune comes from. Agaves and bats give us more than a drink, they give us our way of life.” He adds: “We’ve become more than farmers. We’ve become conservationists.”
Mexican Long-nosed Bat Migration
The 750-mile Flight
A Life Cycle that Ends in a Spectacular Flowering Bloom
Agaves are a genus of succulents that thrive in arid and sub-arid climates. There are several hundred varieties of agave plants that grow on approximately 20% of the Earth’s surface. In Mexico and the U.S. Southwest — where Bat Conservation International is working with partners to plant thousands of agaves — there are more than 100 agave species. Species diversity is important.
Agaves are often called century plants and mistakenly thought to require 100 years to bloom. While most agave species do take 5-20 years to bloom, the exact length of time needed depends on the climate, soil, water, and other growing conditions.
Agave Blooms & Pollen-Covered Bats
Agaves only bloom once in their lives and then the plant dies. Bats serve a critical role in dispersing pollen from the blooming agaves — when the agaves are in the throes of dying — to keep plant growth cycles going.
Bats are attracted to agave blooms for their sweet nectar. As they slurp nectar, bats collect grains of pollen on their fur, wings, and faces. Oftentimes, pollen covers them completely, making them appear yellow all over.
Agave Pups & Predators
Many agave species reproduce both through seeds and vegetative offshoots near their roots, much like aspen trees. Agave offshoots are called “pups” until they mature, in much the same way baby bats are called pups until maturity.
One of the challenges in seeing agaves mature to their blooming stage is wildlife. Desert rodents and javelina find agaves quite tasty. As BCI and partners plant agaves, fist-size rocks are often piled near the plant base. The rocks deter wildlife and also retain moisture around the plant.
The Sugar Stalk
As an agave plant grows, it slowly produces enough sugar to grow a stalk with thousands of blooms.
Traditional methods of making tequila, mezcal, and bacanora cut off the stalk of the agave plant before it gets tall to keep sugars in the base of the plant. The capon (cutting) removes the blooms that attract and feed bats which, in turn, reduces nectar for bats and pollination opportunities for agaves.
Bats are Vital to Our Planet
Why Bats Matter
Bats are the second largest group of mammals with more than 1,400 species — 1,462 at last count — and live on six of our planet’s seven continents. Bats are important for three primary reasons.
1. They pollinate plants and are vital to sustaining vegetation and ecosystems. In Mexico and the U.S. Southwest, bats help propagate agave and maintain healthy genetic diversity.
2. Because bats can fly long distances, they are necessary in dispersing seeds over large landscapes, playing a vital role in forest regeneration.
3. Bats consume tons of insects, reducing the need for pesticides and saving the U.S. agriculture industry billions of dollars annually. One individual can devour 1,200 insects in just one hour during peak feeding activity.
Can bats be saved? Yes! In 1988, the lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae) was added to the U.S. list of Endangered Species. Then, it was estimated that fewer than 1,000 lesser long-nosed bats remained. Thirty years later, when lesser long-nosed bats were removed from the endangered list, the population size was estimated at 200,000 individuals.
Why Bats Matter
Bats are essential to the health of our planet. They devour insects, pollinate vegetation, and disperse seeds. See bats in flight at dusk and at night, and check out remarkable close-up footage of an Endangered nectar-drinking Mexican long-nosed bat.
Bats are Fascinating
Bats get a bad rap, and are surrounded by unfair biases. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find bats fascinating. Did you know that when Mexican long-nosed bats give birth, their bat pup is one-third their size?
The Night Shift
As the sun sets, birds take a break from their daytime pollination role and bats take over, continuing the process into the night.
Our goal is to plant 300,000+ agaves on 50,000 acres of land, establish 20 greenhouses, and support 50 communities by 2025.
Join Us In Protecting Bats And Communities
- $20 1 Agave Planted
- $50 Support 10 Bats & their Babies
- $100 Restore 1 Acre of Land
- $2,300 Fund a Nursery
- Donate More
Restoring agaves is a critical step in conserving bats, while supporting local communities.
- For every $20 donated, we will plant an agave for bats and communities in need.
- For every $50 donated, we will plant agaves to support 10 mother bats and their babies.
- For every $100 donated, you will help us restore 1 acre of land along the bats’ migration corridor.
- For every $2,300 donated, you will fund a nursery for long-term restoration and community benefit.
Make a difference today!