News

Tongue bristles help bats lap up nectar

Bumps stretch out as mammals drink

By
3:24pm, May 6, 2013

BRILLO TONGUE Rows of bristles line the tip of some nectar-feeding bats’ tongues and spring out to gather nectar when blood fills them during feeding, or when artificially pumped full of liquid, like the tongue tip shown in this scanning electron micrograph. 

A rush of blood to the tongue helps some bats slurp up their food. Erect bristles that spring from the tongue tip of a nectar-feeding bat, Glossophaga soricina, help the bats snag sweetness from flowers, a new study finds.

As a bat reaches its tongue deep into a flower (or a manmade feeder), muscles stretch out, forcing blood from the middle of the tongue down into hairlike nubs that sprout from the tip, biomechanist Cally Harper and her colleagues at Brown University in Providence, R.I., report May 6 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The nubs are like water balloons that fill up when the bat feeds.

Those blood-inflated bristles grab lots of nectar quickly, making it easier for the mammals to snatch food on the fly.

This article is available only to subscribing members. Join SSP today or Log in.

More from Science News