Scientists studied the tube-lipped nectar bat's tongue by filling a clear tube with sugar water and watching the bat lick it up.
Scientists studied the tube-lipped nectar bat's tongue by filling a clear tube with sugar water and watching the bat lick it up.
Photograph by Murray Cooper

Tube-Lipped Nectar Bat

A two-inch-long tube-lipped nectar bat hovers by a narrow, bell-shaped flower in its forest habitat. This hungry animal is after nectar at the bottom of the blossom. To get to the goody, the bat pokes its snout into the flower. With the nectar still out of reach, the mammal sticks out its tongue, which is one-and-a-half times the length of its body. After licking up the sticky sweet, the bat retracts its jumbo-size tongue and flies off.

Common Name:
Tube-Lipped Nectar Bat
Scientific Name:
Anoura fistulata
Type:
Mammals
Diet:
Omnivore
Size:
about 2.3 inches

TRANSFORMING TONGUE

The tube-lipped nectar bat was first discovered in Ecuador, a country in South America. It has the longest tongue compared to its body of any mammal in the world. In fact, if this bat were a person, its tongue would be almost nine feet in length! The bat stores the extra-long licker in its chest until it comes across a flower with yummy nectar inside.

Once the animal’s tongue reaches the nectar in the blossom, the tip transforms. Hairlike bristles on the tongue stretch outward, making it prickly. With these bristles extended, the bat can extract more food from the plant. By chowing down on flower nectar, these animals don't just satisfy their hunger—they also help maintain their habitat.

POLLEN POWER

As the tube-lipped nectar bat eats from the flower, it brushes against the petals. This causes pollen from the blossom to fall on the bat’s head. The bat sprinkles the pollen from the flower on the next plant it visits. This can lead to the creation of seeds, which get dispersed and grow into new blossoms. Who knew bats were good at gardening?