May 8 - Researchers at Brown University have unravelled the secrets of the fruit bat's efficiency in collecting nectar from plants. Using a high speed camera, the scientists have shown that the bat's tongue becomes engorged with blood and changes shape to become a mop-like tool the animal uses to draw nectar into its mouth. Ben Gruber has more.
According to researchers at Brown University, this is one of nature's most perfectly evolved organs. It's the erect tongue of a bat, engorged with blood and covered with bristles to maximize its ability to collect nectar. Using a high speed camera, the researchers were able to record for the first time, a fruit bat's tongue changing shape to become the ideal tool for harvesting nectar from a plant. After filling with blood the bat's tongue increases in length by up to 50 percent. And under closer inspection, the researchers observed the tiny bristles that line the bat's' tongue also change shape during feeding. Up until now these tiny hair-like structures were thought lie dormant when the bat fed. But the researchers have discovered that they actually extend, increasing the surface area of the tongue and turning it into an instrument resembling a mop. The researchers believe that the tongue has evolved this way to decrease the time and energy required for the bat to hover and feed. But they also believe their bat tongue study could lead to scientific advances for humans, such as the creation of miniature surgical robots that could unclog arteries... with the same efficiency of a fruit bat sucking up its nectar.