A once-endangered bat species crucial for the pollination of plants used in tequila production has made its comeback, according to wildlife officials.
On Jan. 5, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed taking the lesser long-nosed bat off the endangered species list — potentially the first bat ever taken out of the country’s threatened as well as endangered species list. Mexico delisted this bat in 2015.
Bat Population Revived
"Many entities in both the [United States] and Mexico have worked tirelessly toward recovery,” said Jim deVos, assistant director at Arizona Game and Fish department’s wildlife management. “This announcement stands as testimony that dedicated efforts and sound management practices can lead to recovery of endangered species."
Rebuilding a healthy population of these bats has taken about three decades of conservation work by American and Mexican scientists and volunteers, as well as tequila makers in Mexico, federal officials added.
Fewer than a thousand lesser long-nosed bats were known to exist in 14 roosts in the region. Today, there are around 200,000 of these flying mammals as well as more roost sites, from Mexico to southern Arizona and New Mexico.
These bats subsist on the nectar of flowering plants found in the desert, from cactuses to agaves.
They were once on the brink of extinction because of habitat destruction, wildlife managers noted. Some Mexican roosting areas, for instance, were wiped out to target rabies-carrying vampire bats, while rapid development became a factor in the destruction of the remaining ones.
Toast To Tequila
Mexican tequila producers play an instrumental role in recovering the bat populations, incorporating further harvesting and cultivation standards relating to these key pollinators of agave, a key ingredient of the liquor. There’s also such a thing as “bat-friendly tequila” now.
The nation’s tequilas are mandated by law to be 100 percent made from agave, while their U.S. counterparts are allowed to be blended or made from a combination of agave and other sweetening and flavoring chemicals.
In the United States, the bats also roost and forage on agave and cactus plants, usually on public properties where measures aim to control human interference, such as abandoned mines and caves.
In southern Arizona, locals have tracked the bat’s nighttime use of hummingbird feeders, which offer biologists greater insight into their migration and other behaviors. Here they catch bats and attach radio transmitters assisting in identifying roost sites.
Other recovery initiatives include changing attitudes toward bats through education, and scientists are studying climate change’s potential effects on the so-called nectar trail — composed of agaves, cacti, and other blooming plants that the bats consume. The bats exhibit such flexibility to adapt to changing environments.
The FWS is accepting public comment on the proposed delisting through March 7 and will produce its final decision afterward.
Bats are social creatures that live up to 30 years, settling in such huge colonies that they use vocalizations to communicate in a manner similar to those observed in dolphins, monkeys, and other mammals. A recent study that analyzed almost 15,000 sounds coming from 22 Egyptian fruit bats probed bat language.