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Plant Sonar

August 8, 2011

A Cuban plant has acoustically-enhanced leaves that help pollinating bats find it in the dark.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Plant sonar…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Bats use echolocation to find insects and other prey. But some bats feed on plant nectar. Now, scientists have discovered that a Cuban plant attracts nectar-sipping bats with specialized leaves that take advantage of sonar. University of Bristol sensory biologist Marc Holdereid says the leaves are shaped a bit like a satellite dish. He and his colleagues hid nectar rewards next to both normal and specialized leaves.

MARC HOLDERIED (University of Bristol):

When we attached one of these concave dish-shaped leaves, what we found was that the bats find these hidden nectar rewards about twice as fast. The acoustic properties or the echoes sent by this dish-shaped leaf actually helps the bats find the flowers.

HIRSHON:

He says the bats need to visit hundreds of flowers every night to get enough nectar to survive.

HOLDEREID:

It’s a big benefit to their survival and fitness.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.