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This Bat’s Tongue Works Like a Conveyor Belt

The unique tongues are raising new questions for scientists

smithsonian.com

Sometimes a tongue acts like a pump — that’s the case for hummingbirds. But sometimes, reports Hanae Armitage for Science, a tongue can act more like a conveyor belt instead.

The tongue in question belongs to the Lonchophylla robusta bat, writes Armitage, and it’s weirding out scientists who can’t exactly figure out how it gets nectar from a food source and into the bat itself. Known as the orange nectar bat, this creature has a long, grooved tongue that it sticks into a source of nectar, then keeps there.

Now, new research shows that bats with grooved tongues are completely unique. Using high-speed video like the clip you can see above, researchers took a look at the bat’s strange feeding habits. Instead of sucking, the tongue moves nectar up its surface with a mechanism similar to a conveyor belt. The “novel drinking mechanism” is likely driven by a combination of the tongue’s shape and some kind of capillary action, the team writes.

But that doesn’t mean they’ve figured it out: They conclude that the new knowledge about the bat’s tongue raises “further questions” about both how fluids act and how evolution might have shaped these odd, conveyor belt-like tongues.

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