“If you like tequila — well, guess what. You owe it to the bats,” says Rodrigo Medellín, an ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
The lesser long-nosed bat flies from plant to plant in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest, lapping up nectar and pollinating cacti and blue agave — the plant that gives us tequila. And that may be why an endangered bat has an unlikely protector: Artisanal tequila makers.
In 1988, the bats were in real trouble. Fewer than 1,000 survived in the United States and Mexico when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) added the species to the Endangered Species List.
Did you know? Bats pollinate the blue agave plant –the single plant species that is the source of tequila! #COP13 #Biodiversity #GlobalGoals pic.twitter.com/75dEEZPZ8S— Global Goals (@GlobalGoalsUN) December 8, 2016
But today, thanks to biologists and citizen scientists from the U.S. and Mexico, as well as the makers of “bat-friendly” tequila, their numbers have grown to more than 200,000.
In a new twist, big agave producers have stopped preventing plants from flowering before harvest. Allowing some of the plants to flower attracts the bats and promotes agave health, Medellín says.
Federal officials said it has taken 30 years of conservation efforts to rebuild a healthy population. “This has been an international team effort,” Steve Spangle, the Arizona field supervisor for USFWS, said in a statement.
The species has recovered so much that U.S. wildlife officials have proposed removing the lesser long-nosed bat from the Endangered Species List.
Medellín’s tireless work to save species earned him the nickname “Bat Man of Mexico.” He notes several important “superpowers” of bats, including:
- Pest control: A single bat can eat 1,000 mosquitoes per hour.
- Seed shufflers: In rainforests and other habitats, bats spread seeds that restore ecosystems.
- Pollinators: In addition to agave, many plants — including banana, mango and eucalyptus trees — rely on bats for pollination.