Some bats use toilets too

on Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pitcher plant: a toilet by any other name would function the same, right? But what does your toilet do for you? The pitcher plant in is a large, carnivorous, pitfall trap like plant that lives in very nutrient-poor swamps in Borneo. A new Study found that these plants receive their nitrogen from bat guano.  Harwicke's woolly bat is quite small, weighing only four-grams (that's no bigger than a car key), and spends the day sleeping inside the cup of a pitcher plant. Because of their small size, two or three bats could rest inside the pitcher comfortably.  The pitcher plant has adapted itself to keep the bats from falling to the bottom of the pitcher and drowning in the digestive fluids. The pitchers have a tapered shape, for easy hanging, and less digestive fluids to spare the bats an untimely death if they fell inside (and also keep the monkeys from eating the insects that they have caught). This relationship isn't all about the safety of the bats.  In return for a safe and cozy place to sleep, the bats eliminate their wastes inside the plant. While this does not seem like a good trade, the pitcher plants benefit by absorbing their nitrogen needs from the bats droppings and urine. This sort of symbiotic relationship has only been observed in one other mammal: a tree shrew that uses another type of plant as a personal toilet. So whatever you use; the loo, the john, the lavatory, Privy, Netty, Latrine or a pitcher plant you can rest easy knowing that someone or something may using your waste for good: and if not, at least you don't have to sleep in it. 

I thought using the words "bats" and "toilet" in the title would draw people in (hook).  I added several pictures for visual interest (Show me, don't tell me).  I tried to arouse their interest by talking about a symbiotic relationship they may not be familiar with and talking about toilets, which most people aren't usually too comfortable talking about. I fulfilled this by explaining that unlike any other bats, the woolly bat sleeps inside of a plant, and the plants benefit from bat fecal matter. To keep them interested I added some pop cultural references and a little toilet humor.  I tried to keep the story from sounding like too much of a news story by analyzing the story as we went along and making little jokes that would make the story sound less boring.  
bat head


kmanocc said...

I was hooked as soon as I heard the word toilet! I found it extremely interesting to know that the bat was drowning the pitcher plant in its feces and urine and somehow this was beneficial to both the plant and the bat! How neat!! Also, very clever reminds me of the toilet cleaning commercial!

Rachel Day said...

Very interesting post Rachael. I have seen the pitcher plants native to Ohio and now I wonder how they acquire their necessary nutrients without these bats.
I agree, the title is a good hook!

KT Huff said...

I loved this post! It was very interesting and fun to read about the bats. After the bat demonstration during Vert Bio, I've really liked bats. You also did a very good job of keeping the interest of the reader throughout the post. Good job and keep the awesome information coming!! :)

Stephanie said...

This was awesome, I was going to write about this too until I saw your post! I think you did a great job of picking a topic (symbiosis) that many people without a background in science probably don't know about and then explained it in terms that were easy to understand. I also liked that you used humor, it makes science more interesting :)

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