Magazine article Science News

Extreme Tongue: Bat Excels at Saying 'Aah'

Magazine article Science News

Extreme Tongue: Bat Excels at Saying 'Aah'

Article excerpt

The new mammalian champ for sticking out its tongue is a small bat from the Andes.

The tube-lipped nectar bat zaps out a skinny tongue that can extend a distance 1.5 times its body length, reports Nathan Muchhala of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. He says that among all vertebrates, only chameleons can top that, reaching out their tongues to twice their body length.

The nocturnal bat's tongue extends from an attachment point within the animal's ribcage. Tongues of most animals arise just at the back of their jaws.

Muchhala was studying pollination in cloud forests in the Ecuadorian Andes when he realized that one of the species of nectar-sipping bats that he had netted hadn't been described by scientists. Last year, Muchhala and his colleagues named it Anoura fistulata.

Among its unusual features is a long, pointy lower lip with a groove in it. At a flower, the tongue shoots out along the groove and then retracts several times within half a second.

To measure tongue extension, Muchhala encouraged bats to sip sugar water from drinking straws. He started with test tubes but switched when the small, agile bats plunged in up to their shoulders. Other local nectar bats reached down 4 cm. The new species more than doubled that depth, Muchhala reports in the Dec. 7 Nature. "I was amazed," he says.

By studying newly identified museum specimens, Muchhala found that the prodigious tongue attaches within a tube of tissue that originates in the bat's chest between the sternum and the heart and extends to the back of the mouth. …

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