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Tiny bats trade in caves for pitcher plants in Borneo

A tiny species of bat in Borneo has chosen an unusual roost: a carnivorous pitcher plant, according to a recent study. The study examines how this behavior actually benefits both the bats and the plants, creating a symbiotic relationship.

In the Biology Letters‘s study, Hardwicke’s woolly bats (Kerivoula hardwickii) were found to consistently roost in a subspecies of pitcher plant (Nepenthes rafflesiana elongate), hanging above the digestive fluid on the bottom of the plants’ tube, which is used to devour insects.

The tiny bats gain a dry and secure place to sleep “free of blood-sucking ectoparasites that often accumulate in bat roosts,” lead author Dr. Ulmar Grafe told the BBC.

But what do the pitcher plants get out of the relationship? Feces, according to the study. While the bats sleep they defecate and the poop is devoured by the plant for its nitrogen. In fact the pitcher plant survives on significantly less insects, because so much of its energy comes from nitrogen-rich bat droppings.

The pitcher plant may have even evolved to better suit its mammalian guests: the plant’s digestive fluid is lower than other pitcher plants and its pitcher is tapered, presumably allowing the bats more room to spread their wings.

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