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Photo in the News: Bat Has Longest Tongue of Any Mammal

Photo of a bat with the longest tongue of any mammal
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December 6, 2006—It's enough to give Gene Simmons (inset) appendage envy. Despite a '70s rock rumor, the Kiss bassist did not have his tongue surgically replaced with a cow's. But could Anoura fistulata tempt him to go batty?

A. fistulata (shown lapping sugar water from a tube) has the longest tongue, relative to body length, of any mammal—and now scientists think they know why.

"This bat was just discovered last year, and now we've observed a very unique relationship with a local flower," said Nathan Muchhala, a University of Miami Ph.D. student whose team's findings are to be published tomorrow in the journal Nature.

Found in an Andean cloud forest in Ecuador, A. fistulata (aka the tube-lipped nectar bat) evolved mutually with an extremely long, bell-shaped flower, the team says. In fact, armed with a tongue that retracts into the bat's rib cage, A. fistulata is now the only animal that can pollinate the flower.

—Ted Chamberlain

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