Long-Nosed Bats and Agaves: The Tequila Connection
Thursday, July 7, 2022
The Mexican long-nosed bat population is in trouble, which has prompted a fundraising effort to restore agave plants along their Southwest migrating corridor.
Bat Conservation International (BCI) is collaborating with communities in northeastern Mexico to restore agaves.
Kristen Lear, agave restoration program manager for BCI, said funds raised will support conservation measures to protect agaves, whose nectar is a critical margarita ingredient and also the bats' main food supply.
"Across their migratory range, through the Southwest U.S. and Mexico, we're actually seeing loss of natural agave habitat where these agave plants grow," Lear explained. "Things like expansion of agriculture, grazing by livestock, urbanization."
The Mexican long-nosed bat was one of 10 species listed as imperiled by climate change in a 2021 report by the Endangered Species Coalition. Its populations are estimated to have declined more than 50% in the past 10 years, with only 5,000 bats remaining.
Lear pointed out not just bats benefit from the protection of agave plants, but also the land, biodiversity and human livelihoods.
"People in Mexico use agaves for many, many different things, including mezcal and tequila," Lear outlined. "But they use them for livestock fodder, to build fences and houses. They're just really important plants for the communities."
Bats are the only flying mammal, and long-nosed females migrate north from central Mexico while pregnant to follow the agave blooms to a post-maternity cave in New Mexico's Bootheel.
Ana Ibarra, senior research associate for BCI, said it is hard not to root for a mammal some describe as looking like a "baby chihuahua with a cute nose."
"It's one of those things that, once you get to know them, you learn how fascinating their lives can be; where they live, how they live, what they do," Ibarra observed. "They have some of the weirdest reproductive patterns in the whole mammal group."
Severe droughts in northern Mexico and the Southwest continue to delay blooming times for agave, another disturbance to the bat's historic migration.
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