Smart plants grow satellite dishes to lure in bats

Plants, shockingly, have not evolved flowers and fruits to make our lives prettier and tastier. Instead, they're engaged in hardcore competition to trick insects and animals into pollinating them and spreading their seeds. It should be no surprise, then, that one particularly enterprising plant grows its own echolocation beacons to attract bats.

Just imagine for a second that you're a plant. Boy, it sure is nice being a plant, isn't it? But wait! You're feeling kinda randy and you've got all this pollen that you need to give to your plantfriend, and said plant is way over on the other side of the jungle. What you want to do is hire a messenger somehow, and you can pay them in nectar, that's no problem. What is a problem is getting the right messenger to come visit you, especially when you're buried in what's literally a jungle of other plants all trying to do more or less the same thing.

If you're a smart plant (and you are a smart plant, aren't you?), you'd pick out exactly the messenger you want and make it super easy for them to find you. Many plants do this with fancy flowers, but for a plant like the Cuban species Marcgravia evenia that's only interested in attracting bats, a much better solution is to swap out the flowers for special satellite dish-shaped leaves that act as sonar reflectors. These reflectors bounce back the echolocation sounds that bats use to navigate, and due to their shape, they'd "sound conspicuously constant" to any bats that happen to fly by them.

This isn't just a theoretical thing, either: batologists batographers people who study bats ran some tests, and they discovered that a bat that took 22 seconds to find one of these plants without any leaves on it could find the same plant in only 12 seconds with one single leaf attached to act as an echolocation beacon. It's faster, for sure, but the important bit is that it's obvious that bats can spot these special leaves from a distance and even when they're buried in other plants, ensuring that Marcgravia evenia always has a reliable source of go-betweens to help it, you know, get all freaky with others of its species.

Via National Geographic and Ars Technica

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