It turns out that the scorpion eating Pallid Bats have more tricks up their proverbial sleeves than anyone would have guessed—including being powerful pollinators.

07.07.21

Pallid Bat supplements insect and scorpion diet with cactus nectar

Dr. Winifred Frick

One night, Bat Conservation International Chief Scientist Dr. Winifred Frick waited in the Sonoran Desert in Baja California. Her objective as part of research for her Ph.D: to observe Lesser Long-nosed Bats (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae) sipping nectar and pollinating the cardon cactus.

She saw several bats approach the white night-blooming flowers of the tall columnar cactus and, instead of seeing an elongated muzzle like she expected, she noticed the bats looked different—they were Pallid Bats (Antrozous pallidus).

She watched as the bats took turns landing on the flowers and, instead of gingerly sipping nectar with a specialized tongue like a Lesser Long-nosed Bat would, they shoved their whole heads into the large blooms, burying their heads deep inside to drink the nectar, emerging speckled with pollen. Fascinated, she began studying how Pallid Bats interact with cacti.

Richard Jackson

A Fascinating Species

With big ears and a pig-like nose, Pallid Bats are well-adapted—and well-known—for battling scorpions and winning, immune to their venom.

They use echolocation to identify insects like large beetles and Jerusalem crickets, as well as scorpions, to eat, so this part-time diet of nectar was a surprising finding. In fact, they are one of only two insect-eating bats known to also dine on nectar. The other species lives in New Zealand.

With their large ears, they also listen for the sounds of scorpions and other large ground prey scuttling along the desert floor.

Richard Jackson

Powerful Pollinators

One would think their hunting-adapted features, like those large ears, made them less effective as a pollinator, but Dr. Frick and colleagues found the opposite to be true. They conducted a study and found Pallid Bats transferred 13 times as much pollen as the Lesser Long-nosed Bat.

While the Lesser Long-nosed Bat hovers and inserts its specialized muzzle and long tongue to acquire nectar, the Pallid Bat lands on flowers, shoving its whole head in, which also makes for a longer visit at each flower. Additionally, the Lesser Long-nosed Bat consumes pollen, grooming itself and eating some of the grains off its fur. It turns out that the scorpion eating Pallid Bats have more tricks up their proverbial sleeves than anyone would have guessed—including being powerful pollinators.