Scientists Save Endangered Bat Species That Helps Make Tequila

An endangered species has been brought back from the brink of extinction—and that's good news for people who like drinking tequila.

About 30 years ago, the lesser long-nosed bat community had fewer than 1,000 members in the American Southwest and Mexico; now there are about 200,000 of them, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced this week. Because of its progress, the species has become "the first bat ever removed from Endangered Species Act protections due to recovery."

Lesser long-nosed bats are important pollinators in the areas they live. According to the U.S. National Park Service, the fine hairs of the bats get covered in pollen as they dunk their heads into flowers to drink nectar, and they spread that pollen during the course of their nighttime feeding travels.

They also have tongues that are as long as their entire bodies, the NPS said.

"Often unsung, desert nectar-feeding bats are true heroes in maintaining fragile desert ecosystems in the southwestern United States and Mexico," according to that department.

Among the plants that benefit from their pollination efforts is the agave, which is used to make tequila and represents a crucial part of Mexican industry. The saguaro and organ pipe cacti also benefit from the nectar-slurping bats.

Lesser long-nosed bats are important pollinators in the areas they live. NPS

The FWS described the bat as being "yellow-brown or cinnamon gray" and about 3 inches long.

Invasive plants and habitat losses contributed to the bats being placed on the list of endangered species in 1988. Since then, the FWS said, experts and volunteers have tracked the bats and protected the areas where they roost—often a cave or a mine—among other efforts.

The U.S. states where they are found include Arizona and New Mexico, where bats can be found at public sites like Saguaro National Park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Coronado National Memorial.

"The story of the lesser long-nosed bat shows that conservation and science work together to provide species the chance to recover and persist," Bat Conservation International scientist Winifred Frick said in the FWS statement.

Mexico took lesser long-nosed bats off its own endangered species list in 2015.

"The science clearly shows threats to the bat have been eliminated or reduced to the point that the bat has recovered," FWS Southwest Regional Director Amy Lueders said.