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Bats and Food


A Gambian epauletted fruit bat,
Epomophorus gambianus, takes off with a fig.
Photo: Merlin D. Tuttle / Bat Conservation International

Open the kitchen cupboard and what do you see? Maybe a bottle of tequila, some yummy fig jam or maybe a huge block of chocolate. Have you every wondered how these and many other food items may be connected to bats?

Believe it or not, many of the foods found on grocery store shelves and in kitchen pantries are products of bats’ interactions with nature. Three interactions, to be specific.

Pollination: Take the bottle of tequila, for example. Where does that distilled beverage hail from anyway? Most is made in Mexico, where the lesser-long nosed bat serves as bee substitutes, slurping up the sweet nectar from wild agave. In the process, pollen sticks to their bristled neck and is transferred to the next flower, sometimes many miles away.

Seed dispersal: And what about that fig jam? Before spreading it on your toast consider this: without bats, forests might be bereft of figs trees. There are more than 800 species of figs worldwide and bats play a large role in their dispersal. When bats munch on the juicy chunks of figs they spit out their seeds, or just let them leave the exit the body the natural way. In any case, their deposits often land in barren forests that could use the introduction of new seedlings.

And then there’s the chocolate. The cacao. Everyone loves it—including pests. Fortunately for devoted chocolate fans, there are bats. Some bats can eat half their weight in bugs, and by doing so decrease the need for harsh pesticides, and increase crop yields all around.

So the jury is out. Bats are our new best friend.

Especially when it comes to food.

More than 20 of our favorite foods have connections to bats through seed dispersal, pollination and pest control. Check out the Bat Week Cookbook to discover delicious recipes using ingredients made possible by bats.