Recent scientific research points out how a carnivorous plant can communicate with bats in order to get its supply of nutrients.
Nepenthes hemsleyana is a particularly interesting carnivorous plant species that has found an alternative way of feeding itself that does not rely on its predatory skills, but rather on its ability to accommodate small bats, that repay the plant with nutrients.
As far as the scientific community was concerned, Nepenthes hemsleyana was part of the pitcher plant group that lived out its days in Borneo, South East Asia and that, like all of its relatives attracted insects into its pitcher, where the small creatures would die in the pool of its liquid contents, so that the plant could eventually use its digestive enzymes to obtain the nitrogen that it needed to feed itself.
Well, upon taking a closer look at the behavior of this particular pitcher plant, University of Greifswald’s Caroline and Michel Schöner, a team of researchers focused on bat research, found out that there is a very close relationship between Kerivoula hardwickii, commonly known as the Hardwicke’s woolly bat, and the N. hemsleyana plant.
They were initially conducting a research project on the bat species, when their unusual relationship got their attention. They kept finding bats that were taking refuge in this specific type of plant and so, they figured out that N. hemsleyana must be sending out a message that the bat is able to understand, and translate into its echolocation language.
And so, they used an artificial bat model, that was able to record the ultrasound data that the plants around it were emitting and that could also issue ultrasound signals of its own, just as a real life bat would be able to do.
Their study revealed that the bat and the carnivorous plant are actually able to communicate so that the bat can make its way towards the plants and use it to roost in it. The researchers discovered that the N. hemsleyana plant is equipped with sonar-like parts that attract the bats. This is how the animals are able to reach these plants specifically.
And it seems that the roosting spot that they provide is comfortable enough for the bats, that the actually defecate there. This might sound like bad manners, but it is extremely helpful for the plant, because it can use the nitrogen in the bat feces as nutrients. Therefore this is a win-win relationship.
“While N. hemsleyana reduced many insect-attracting traits, it obviously exhibits some traits that are highly attractive for a species that provides the plants with nutrients without being digested by the plant itself.” explained Michael Schöner.
This type of adaptation bares great importance, as it offers the plant an alternative from its regular insect-based menu. Therefore, the plant has more options in the event that one of its nutrient source happens to run dry one day.
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