Harper at al., PNAS, 2013
At left, the bat has extended its tongue into a flower and deployed its bristle-like papillae. At right, the tongue is retracted, pulling lots of yummy nectar with it. [Caption modified from original for clarity.]
You’ve heard of vampire bats, but this bat . . . may creep you out even more!
This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying, EW!
Meet the common long-tongued bat. It lives south of the border. And drinks flower nectar like a hummingbird. But, unlike hummingbirds, its tongue is covered in hair-like bristles. But why?
Enter Cally Harper from Brown University, Rhode Island. She used high-speed cameras to film the little sapsuckers lapping up sugar water in her lab. Watching the videos in slowmo revealed … well, some serious tongue action. With each lick, the bats unfurled a typical-looking pale-pink tongue. But once it was fully extended? It flushed with blood—and whoa!—the bristles— fatefully called Horny Papillae—went erect! Splayed around the organ like peacock feathers, the structures trapped the liquid ambrosia among them. Like a honey dipper, this harvested more nectar. Pretty sweet.
The mop-like tongues could serve as models for new medical tools. Like ones that snake into clogged arteries, then puff up and clean them out.
What to call this useful new medical tool? How about “mechanical hairy bat's bristle tongue”? If not, the Swiffer. Perhaps that's better.
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