Plants rely on the numerous nectar loving insects for pollination. So they develop new and sometimes curious ways of attracting them. Meat eating plants, on the other hand, use these attraction techniques to other ends. A large meat-eating plant in Borneo, for instance, has developed one of the most curious attraction mechanism. It uses ultrasonic reflection to attract bats.
Nepenthes hemsleyana had previously been regarded by scientists as not efficient in attracting its prey. Despite this, it remained prevalent in the natural world. Researchers soon discovered that this curious plant uses special reflective structures that beam bats’ ultrasonic calls right back to the unsuspecting mammal.
The nature of these structures makes the Nepenthes hemsleyana plant stand out from the rest of the plants surrounding it and bats can easily home in on the plant that relies heavily on the fertilizing properties of the bats’ droppings.
According to Michael Schoener, of the Ernst-Moritz-Arndt University, the reflective properties of these plants make bats not only home in on this particular plant but also distinguish it from other similarly-shaped plants.
Schoener explains that bats simply settle towards the uppermost parts of the plant, away from its harmful digestive liquids. While the bat is resting, the plant receives the nourishment it requires. Researchers found it peculiar that so many bats would always home in on this one particular plant, and suspected that ultrasound communication was involved.
As a result, they sought to identify exactly how this communication occurs. With the help of an artificial bat head capable of emitting and recording ultrasounds, they tested the pitcher plant’s properties against other plants in its environment. The plant is perfectly designed to work as an effective echo reflector, especially from its posterior walls.
Bats favor particular plants as roost destinations. For one, they seemed to find those pitcher plants more easily if their reflectors hadn’t been damaged.
“Carnivorous plants in general have already solved the problem of nutrient deficiency in a very unusual way by reversing the ‘normal system’ of animals feeding on plants,” Schoener explains, while noting that this particular carnivorous plant has solved its nutritional requirements and doesn’t need to feed on as many insects as other plants like it. The nutrient-rich droppings nearby are enough to sustain this ideally adapted plant.
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