Nectar Bat With Insanely Long Tongue Found in Bolivia

Bizarre tube-lipped nectar bat (Anoura fistulata) in Madidi National Park. Mileniusz Spanowicz/WCS
Janet Fang 24 Aug 2015, 14:22

The tube-lipped nectar bat, Anoura fistulata, has the longest tongue relative to size of any mammal on the planet. It stretches for 8.5 centimeters (more than 3 inches) – that’s 150% of its body length. The bizarre, record-breaking bat was first described in Ecuador a decade ago and is only known from three records. And now, according to a Wildlife Conservation Society announcement, it’s been found for the first time in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park.

The bat's extraordinary tongue lets it reach nectar hidden at the ends of long, funnel-shaped flowers – making them the exclusive pollinators of elongated flowers like these. In humans and most bats, the tongue begins at the base of the mouth, so having a long tongue typically means having a long snout too. Not so for this bat: "Instead of evolving a longer jaw, it pushed the base of the tongue back and into the rib cage," University of Miami’s Nathan Muchhala told LiveScience back in 2006. The tongue is in fact stowed between its heart and its sternum.

This new, fourth record of the tube-lipped nectar bat was discovered during an expedition named Identidad Madidi, an 18-month excursion that launched in June this year. A team of international researchers is exploring the tropical savannahs and forests within the Apolo region of Bolivia, where it has already started describing new species. The team plans to hit up 14 sites from the high Andes into the Amazonian basin. You can read some of their daily blog posts here


New robber frog. Mileniusz Spanowicz/WCS

In addition to the first Bolivian sighting of the tube-lipped nectar bat, the team has also discovered a new species of big-headed or robber frog from the genus Oreobates (pictured above). “As soon as we saw these frogs' distinctive orange inner thighs, it aroused our suspicions about a possible new species, especially because this habitat has never really been studied in detail before,” James Aparicio of the Bolivian Faunal Collection said in a statement. There are 23 known species of these small to medium-sized frogs distributed throughout the Andes and the Amazon. They’ll be able to confirm if it's really a new species after genetic analysis. 

In just June and July, the Identidad Madidi team logged 462 species of vertebrates across their first two site visits. These include 60 new records for the park: 25 mammals, 15 fish, 11 reptiles, five amphibians, and four birds. Of these, three catfish, a lizard and another frog may very well be new to science too. 

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