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A Closer Look at Leptos
(Leptonycteris curasoae: Lesser long-nosed bat)
Photos by Merlin D. Tuttle,
Bat Conservation International
Captions by Katharine Hinman
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Here's a Lepto approaching a saguaro flower. The flower has a strong odor to attract the bats and the big white flower makes it easy for them to see it even with only starlight to guide them.
Most flowers pollinated by bats grow at the top of the plant, like this organ pipe cactus flower, or on branches so they are easy for the bats to find and get to. Leptos can hover, but only for a second or two, so they need to take good aim when they approach the flower. (They wouldn't want to miss and hit those nasty spines!)
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The saguaro flower is a perfect fit for a Lepto's head! It sticks its face right into the flower to get the sweet nectar. The nectar pools right at the base of the flower, so the Lepto has to stick out its long tongue to get to it. When fully extended, its tongue is longer than its head!
In Mexico, Leptos visit other kinds of cactus flowers besides just saguaro and organ pipe, including this cardon.
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Even after the flowers are gone, the bats aren't done feeding off the cacti. They'll also eat the sweet juicy fruit and help spread its seeds.
 
After a few visits to flowers, the Lepto's faces are covered with pollen. They carry some of the pollen to other flowers, but they groom most of it off and swallow it. This pollen will give them the protein they need to survive.
 
That's me (Katharine Hinman) getting a Lepto out of a mist-net I strung up next to a blooming century plant. The bat wasn't paying attention and got caught in the net. You can see the yellow pollen on its face.  
   

Even though these bats mostly eat nectar and pollen, they still have teeth and will bite in self-defense, so I always wear gloves. Just in case!  

 

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