“Each species on our planet plays a role in the healthy functioning of natural ecosystems, on which humans depend”
William H. Schlesinger
The feeding habits of the Mexican long-nosed bat are directly related to its decline. They are nocturnal nectar feeders and pollinators who favour desert plants such as agave, saguaro, cardon and organ pipe. A long-standing and mutually beneficial relationship exists between the plants and the long-nosed bats.
Agaves are being harvested for the production of tequila and other alcohol related beverages. The plants are harvested in such a way, they are incapable of regenerating. Once lost, there will be no plants for the long-nosed bats to pollinate, and, naturally, no pollen dispersed and the plants will cease to spread.
This dependence on bats is known as chiropterophily. Should the bats then be lost through insufficient food, the whole ecosystem of the desert would be compromised and may eventually be lost altogether.
The Mexican long-nosed bat grows up to almost four inches and weighs a mere one ounce. It has wing span of fourteen inches and can fly up to fourteen miles per hour. It has pale-brown to grey fur with black wings, and has a long muzzle with a prominent triangular-shaped nose leaf at the tip. It can live up to twenty years.
When the spring comes and it is time to birth pups, the bats migrate to the Sonoran Desert region. Only one pup will be born to each mother, but thousands of pups will occupy the same cave. This creates a care-sharing system allowing some mothers to leave the cave to feed whilst others stay and ‘babysit’. The pups nurse for about four to five weeks, after which they are ready to fly.
During the day, they roost in caves and mines, away from the heat of the sun. At night, they can be located near pine-oak and deciduous forest and any desert scrubland which offers a variety of plants and cacti.
They can be found all the year round in Mexico. During the summer months, they can also be seen in the United States.
What they eat
Nectar and pollen from night-blooming desert plants. These include saguaro, cardon and organ pipe, and several species of wild agave.
Human disturbance (the long-nosed bat roosts in large colonies, so the disruption of one habitat can affect thousands of individuals at the same time), land clearance for agriculture and extensive harvesting of wild agaves for alcohol production. In Mexico, long-nosed bats are often associated with the problems of vampire bats, and wrongly thought to be a predatory species as opposed to a beneficial species. As a result, they are killed by the farmers who come across them.
The Mexican long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris nivalis) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. It was listed as endangered in 1988 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The States of Texas and New Mexico listed this species as endangered in 1988 and 1990, respectively. Mexico listed the long-nosed bat as endangered in 1991 under the Mexican Endangered Species Act.
Due to the migratory nature of the Mexican long-nosed bat, and the fact they are so rare, it has been difficult to estimate numbers. But, the general consensus is; the population is declining rapidly.