Why fruit-eating bats eat dirt

April 22, 2008

"Don't eat the green parts of tomatoes, cut the green off the potatoes." Any child would know that eating these parts of vegetables is a bad idea. The reason behind this is that they contain secondary plant compounds which may have detrimental effects on the consumer.

Each night, tropical fruit-eating bats ingest large amounts of secondary plant compounds with their food. This may become particularly problematic for pregnant or lactating bat mothers, since secondary plant compounds may damage the embryo or the juvenile. Now,a scientific study describes for the first time how female fruit-eating bats deal with this situation. In a study published in the online journal PLoS ONE, researchers from the Berlin Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), Boston University and Cornell University, found evidence that fruit-eating bats take up large amounts of mineral rich water and clay from so-called mineral licks to detoxify the secondary plant compounds they ingest in fruits.

Bats include more than 1200 species, represent the second most species rich mammalian group and are important seed dispersers in tropical rain forests. Dr. Christian Voigt and his colleagues captured pregnant and lactating bats at mineral licks in the Amazonian rainforest of Ecuador.

"At first glance it seemed that bats visit these sites for the same purpose as other animals such as large tapirs or birds, i.e. to meet their daily mineral requirements," Voigt describes their initial thoughts when they started the study. Bat mothers have particularly high mineral demands, because their juveniles cannot be weaned before they have reached almost adult size.

"To our amazement, we found fruits to be relatively rich in minerals compared to insects," states Dr. Voigt. In the present study, the researchers focused on one bat species that feeds on both fruits and insects.

The study demonstrates that although insects and not fruits had a low mineral content insufficient for bat reproduction, only bats with a fruit-dominated diet visited mineral licks. The researchers assume that female bats ingest more fruits than usual during pregnancy and lactation. Therefore, they are directly exposed to the detrimental effects of secondary plant compounds. Female bats seem to be able to compensate the toxicity of secondary plant compounds by consuming mineral rich clay or water. Local people in Africa and South America or Africa are also familiar with the detoxifying qualities of mineral-rich clay and consume it during pregnancy and lactation. It seems as if humans and bats have found a similar solution for a shared problem.
-end-
Contact:
Dr. Christian Voigt
Tel: 0049 30 5168 517
Email: voigt@izw-berlin.de

Steven Seet
Tel: 0049 30 5168 108
Email: seet@izw-berlin.de

Information & Photos:
Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildtlife Research (IZW) in the Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
Alfred-Kowalke-Str. 17
10315 Berlin
Germany
www.izw-berlin.de

Citation: Voigt CC, Capps KA, Dechmann DKN, Michener RH, Kunz TH (2008) Nutrition or Detoxification: Why Bats Visit Mineral Licks of the Amazonian Rainforest. PLoS ONE 3(4): e2011. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002011

PLEASE ADD THE LINK TO THE PUBLISHED ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT (URL live from April 22, 8 p.m. ET): http://www.plosone.org/doi/pone.0002011

Background information:

The Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) investigates the vitality and adaptability of wildlife populations in mammalian and avian species of outstanding ecological interest that face anthropogenic challenges. It studies the adaptive value of traits in the life cycle of wildlife, wildlife diseases and clarifies the biological basis and development of methods for the protection of threatened species. Such knowledge is a precondition for a scientifically based approach to conservation and for the development of concepts for the ecologically sustainable use of natural resources. www.izw-berlin.de

The IZW is a member of the Leibniz Association, a scientific organisation comprised of 82 non-university research institutes and scientific service facilities. The Leibniz Association's institutes employ approx. 13,700 staff members, amongst them 5,400 scientists of which 2,000 are young scientists. Their total budget exceeds 1.1 billion Euro per year. Third party funding is approximately around 225 million Euro per year. www.leibniz-association.eu




Disclaimer

This press release refers to an upcoming article in PLoS ONE. The release has been provided by the article authors and/or their institutions. Any opinions expressed in this are the personal views of the contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of PLoS. PLoS expressly disclaims any and all warranties and liability in connection with the information found in the release and article and your use of such information.

PLOS

Related Bats Articles from Brightsurf:

These masked singers are bats
Bats wear face masks, too. Bat researchers got lucky, observing wrinkle-faced bats in a lek, and copulating, for the first time.

Why do bats fly into walls?
Bats sometimes collide with large walls even though they detect these walls with their sonar system.

Vampire bats social distance when they get sick
A new paper in Behavioral Ecology finds that wild vampire bats that are sick spend less time near others from their community, which slows how quickly a disease will spread.

Why doesn't Ebola cause disease in bats, as it does in people?
A new study by researchers from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston uncovered new information on why the Ebola virus can live within bats without causing them harm, while the same virus wreaks deadly havoc to people.

The genetic basis of bats' superpowers revealed
First six reference-quality bat genomes released and analysed

Bats offer clues to treating COVID-19
Bats carry many viruses, including COVID-19, without becoming ill. Biologists at the University of Rochester are studying the immune system of bats to find potential ways to ''mimic'' that system in humans.

A new social role for echolocation in bats that hunt together
To find prey in the dark, bats use echolocation. Some species, like Molossus molossus, may also search within hearing distance of their echolocating group members, sharing information about where food patches are located.

Coronaviruses and bats have been evolving together for millions of years
Scientists compared the different kinds of coronaviruses living in 36 bat species from the western Indian Ocean and nearby areas of Africa.

Bats depend on conspecifics when hunting above farmland
Common noctules -- one of the largest bat species native to Germany -- are searching for their fellows during their hunt for insects above farmland.

Tiny insects become 'visible' to bats when they swarm
Small insects that would normally be undetectable to bats using echolocation suddenly become detectable when they occur in large swarms.

Read More: Bats News and Bats Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.