Research

Hairy Tongues Help Bats Drink

Nectar-drinking bats, honey possums, and honeybees all use hair-like protrusions on their tongues to help them drink. In bats, these papillae have blood vessels that swell when drinking, stiffening the hairs. To investigate this drinking mechanism, researchers built their own version of a bat tongue by fabricating hairy surfaces and testing how well they trapped viscous oil when dipped and withdrawn. Through a combination of experiment and mathematical modeling, the researchers found that the optimal fluid uptake depended on the density of hairs, fluid viscosity, and the withdrawal speed. When they compared their results to actual bats, honey possums, and honeybees, they found that those animals’ tongues have hair densities very close to the predicted optimal value, suggesting that their model is capturing the important physical mechanisms that have driven evolutionary advantages for these species. (Image and research credit: A. Nasto et al.; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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