Monday, 28 November 2011

Short Snouts Gave Fruit Bats a Forceful Bite

What would you do for a bite of a tasty fig? Some fruit bats rearranged their whole face to get a morsel. Their unique head shape gave them the strong bite that allows them to gnaw hard fruits, and eventually grow into a diverse array of species.

"There is this really spectacular group of bats that have tons of different species that eat tons of different kinds of things," study researcher Elizabeth Dumont, of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, told LiveScience. "We were interested in finding out why they are so diverse and what makes them so special."

The researchers focused on leaf-nosed bats found in the New World (a type of microbats in the suborder Yangochiroptera), that includes about 200 bat species that live in Central and  South America. They include the blood-sucking vampire bats, bats that eat insects and fruits, and even some that eat lizards and frogs.

Of these 200 leaf-nosed bats, more than a quarter (65 species) seem to have evolved from a fruit-eating bat in the last 15 million years. The researchers wanted to know how this fruit-eating group was able to grow and expand their diversity so quickly.

To do so, they analyzed the bats' genetic code and placed them in a family tree ranked by how recently they had evolved. They then compared this data to diet information (collected from feces samples) and head size and shape information from museum samples. The researchers also tested the bite strength of wild bats, since chomping on hard fruits can be tough on the jaw.


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