Biologists from the University of Los Andes in Venezuela have made an unexpected observation: instead of eating leaves, bats would repeatedly drop them on the floor below their roosts. Was this just an accident?
By Mariana Muñoz-Romo
Lavender, aloe, chamomile… For thousands of years, not only humans but animals, too, have been making use of medicinal plants to prevent and treat ailments. Some bats, for instance, chew leaves to drink their healthy juices full of vitamins, proteins and micronutrients, discarding the fiber as an oral pellet.
When studying this behavior in two Neotropical fruit-eating bat species, a team of biologists, led by Dr. Mariana Muñoz-Romo and Dr. Paolo Ramoni-Perazzi from the University of Los Andes (Venezuela), made an unprecedented observation: sometimes the bats did not “drink” the juice of the leaves, but instead kept them intact and dropped them on the floor, just below their roosts! In one year, the biologists and their team picked up 639 intact leaves of six different plant species.
“Finding several intact leaves continuously on the floor”, zoologist Dr. Muñoz-Romo explains, “was extremely weird and unexpected to observe. This means that bats flew at night in complete darkness to collect presumably the best leaves of some trees to drop them at home.”
Why are the bats doing this?
Plant leaves can be powerful natural repellents; research has shown that some bird species put fresh leaves in their nests to control bloodsucking ectoparasites. This new discovery in bats suggests they do the same to repel microorganisms and insects from their roosts.
According to the researchers, this first report on biological control behavior performed by bats deserves attention: “The bats could be showing us which leaves are useful to battle against potentially dangerous microorganisms and insects without using artificial poisonous chemicals”, Dr. Muñoz-Romo says. To create natural repellents for the control of unwanted organisms, the chemical properties of the six plants now have to be investigated. In addition, further research on the bats’ dropping behavior and the leaves’ ecological function is essential.
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