In the wilds of Borneo, bats and carnivorous pitcher plants share an unlikely mutualistic relationship. Hidden within the plants, bats can keep cool and roost safely. In return, their droppings make an excellent fertiliser for the pitchers.

Amidst the teeming plant life of the Borneo rainforests, how do the bats easily find their pitcher partners?

It appears that the pitcher plants have a key adaptation that allows their winged allies to easily locate them. Special structures on the leaves and petals reflect intense sounds directed towards them, as is the case when a bat is searching. With this adaptation, uniquely bouncing back acoustics, the pitchers stand out from their environment, allowing bats to easily pinpoint them amongst the crowded chaos of the forest floor.

Author Michael Schoner is enthusiastic about the incredible adaptation of the pitcher plants (Nepenthes hemsleyana) highlighted in the research: “(N. hemsleyanaobviously exhibits some traits that are highly attractive for a species that provides the plants with nutrients without being digested by the plant itself.”


This news in brief snippet is based on materials provided by Cell Press. Image courtesey of Schöner et al. Current Biology 2015. Additional images courtesy of C.C. Lee.

Schöner and Schöner et al. (2015) Bats Are Acoustically Attracted to Mutualistic Carnivorous PlantsCurrent Biology, DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2015.05.054

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