Bumps stretch out as mammals drink
Courtesy of Cally Harper
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.
Scientists had assumed the hairy bristles lining nectar-feeding bats’ tongue tips were like floppy mop strands, limply soaking up liquid. But the new study shows that the tongue bristles are actually much