The incredible tale of bat migration through the Sonoran Desert reads like a story from another planet. Lesser long-nosed bats are one of 11 species of nectar-feeding bats in North America. Their spring migration follows the "nectar corridor," a name scientists have given to a 1,000-mile pathway of cactus and agave plants that bloom in sequence from south to north. The corridor extends from Central Mexico to Arizona and New Mexico. As the flowers bloom, their nectar becomes the food that fuels the bats' journey. The flowers bloom at night, when bats are active. In a single night the bats may travel 100 miles or more.
Scientists recently discovered that as they travel from plant to plant these bats pollinate the flowers. Since pollination is essential in order for these desert plants to reproduce, this interdependence raises an important conservation question: What becomes of plants when their pollinators are endangered, as this bat is?
As part of an education campaign about pollination, this migration story is being presented by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Bat Conservation International. They've organized a network of Mexican and U.S. scientists and students along the bats' trail. These volunteers will track the migration and the blooming sequence of the desert plants. Since most of the reports will emanate from Mexico, all messages will be posted in Spanish. An English translation will follow seven days later, giving students who follow the migration from the classroom a wonderful opportunity to practice translation and learn about the people of the Sonoran Desert. In addition, they will learn about the desert ecosystem and the critical, but often overlooked, role pollinators play in its survival.