Bat Conservation International works to protect New Mexico bats’ food source

Bat Conservation International works to protect New Mexico bats’ food source

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Lesser Long-nosed Bat feeding on an Agave Blossom. (Agave photo by Dan Taylor/Bat Conservation International)

By Elva K. Österreich

Las Cruces Bulletin

LAS CRUCES – Rather than swooping in the night, chowing down on mosquitoes and other little flying critters, some bats in New Mexico survive by sipping the nectar of native plants.

“Not a lot of people in New Mexico realize there are three species of bats that drink nectar,” said Melia Bayless, ecologist and senior director at Bat Conservation International (BCI). “New Mexico, Arizona and Texas are the only states that have these nectarvious species.”

Lesser Long-Nose, Mexican Long-Nose and Mexican Long-Tongue bats all have jobs to do as they feed from and pollinate plants native to southern New Mexico, such as blue agave, from which tequila is made. Some refer to the Mexican Long-Tongue as the tequila bat.

The estimated Mexican Long-Nose bat population has plummeted by 50 percent in the past decade. Their range extends into Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras during the winter and to the American Southwest in summer.

“They follow blooming agave into the United States,” Bayless said. “Many populations of those bats will give birth and raise young in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. They are really only here in early summer months and they move all the way down into southern Mexico.”

To protect the bats’ food source, BCI is working with private landowners to plant agave grown for three years in BCI greenhouses.

Bat Conservation International nursery raises agave plants until they are 3 years old and ready to be placed in the desert to provide bats with nectar. (Agave photo by Dan Taylor/Bat Conservation International)
Bat Conservation International nursery raises agave plants until they are 3 years old and ready to be placed in the desert to provide bats with nectar. (Agave photo by Dan Taylor/Bat Conservation International)
“We have put out about 1,500 agaves and have another 6,000 growing now to be ready to be planted in two-three years,” Bayless said. “We are working with Mexican partners to protect roosts in Sonora, too. We welcome groups, including youth groups, that have some way to help us think about planting in remote areas.”

BCI is also restoring drinking water quality, primarily in the Gila.

“Bats have to drink while they are flying. It’s touch-and-go drinking,” Bayless said.

BCI conducts systematic surveys at known bat locations, monitoring roots, caves and mines with ultrasonic devices. Researchers have identified a handful of roosts in southern New Mexico, most in the Bootheel. But Bayless thinks there are more and plans more surveys to find them.

“We need to see if we can find additional roosts,” she said. “We need to protect those we know about and monitor the bat populations within those caves and mines.”

A recent partnership with XTO Energy has boosted BCI’s ability to protect roosting sites and food sources of the Lesser Long-Nosed bat and the federally endangered Mexican Long-Nose.

“Thanks to XTO Energy we have additional resources to protect two at-risk bat species through a proven strategy of roost and food source protection,” said Kevin Pierson, BCI’s chief conservation officer. “We’re working hard to ensure the survival of these species and to continue to develop private industry partners that share our commitment.”

Bayless cited the collaboration as beneficial to the interests of business and the environment.

“You can make a difference while still making a profit,” she said.

Those wishing to join BCI can visit batcon.org.

Elva K. Österreich may be reached at elva@lascrucesbulletin.com.

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