In a study published in the The Why researchers have explained how a species of pitcher plant communicates with bats in order to feed. Researchers from Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University of Greifswald (Germany) have found out that Nepenthes hemsleyana, a species of pitcher plant, does not only rely on its predatory skills, but it also attracts bats and feeds with their feces.
Pitcher plants can be found in Borneo, South East Asia and they are well-known for attracting insects into their pitcher. The small creatures which the plants attract die in the liquid which the pitcher contains. Afterwards the plant uses its digestive enzymes and obtains the nitrogen needed for feeding.
However researchers observed that Nepenthes hemsleyana has long pitchers and not too much fluid and it does not release insect attractants. Compared to other species of such carnivorous plants it ingests seven times fewer insects.
Instead the researchers have observed that Nepenthes hemsleyana has a mutually beneficial relationship with the Hardwicke’s woolly bat or Kerivoula hardwickii. The bat finds shelter inside the plants’ pitcher. Whole families of bats were observed resting inside this flower.
So Nepenthes hemsleyana does not use its huge pitcher to catch insect, but it is instead a perfect home for bats. In exchange the bats defecate inside the plant and the nutrients for the feces represent valuable food for the plant enabling it to survive.
The researchers were in fact conducting a study on bats when they took notice of this unusual relationship. They assumed that the plant must send some sort of message which the bat can understand because it translates into echolocation language. In order to check their theory the researchers used a an artificial bat which was able to record the ultrasounds signals emitted by the plant and also send ultrasound signals of its own.
The findings revealed that the plants are provided with sonar-like parts which attract the bat and the two of them are able to communicate so the bat can find the way to the plant. In addition the roosting sport which the plants offer is so confortable for the bats that they defecate inside the plant.
This is not the first time such a behavior was observed in plants. Flower with similar behavior can be seen in South America. They must attract the bats because they are the ones that pollinate the plants. In order to attract the animals they turn their flowers into sonar dishes.
Image Source: Pinterest