Sonar-Reflecting Plants and Their Bat Companions: A Symbiotic Love Story

Plants are living, “breathing” creatures, just as we are. They need a certain atmosphere, vitamins, and nutrients just as we do. We know if we don’t receive our recommended daily amounts, we have supplements available to us. But plants must fight for the nutrients they need, and so must strive to attain them any way they can through adaptation. A species of pitcher plants in Germany is said to have sonar-reflecting leaves that are attracting local area bats, making the plant easier for the bats to find.

Poop is Power

A study done by Michael Schoner, a scientist at Germany’s Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University found that these sonar-reflecting plants rely on the bats for a few reasons, but mainly for their poop, which is especially rich in the nutrients that are good for the plants. The plant has trouble getting what it needs from its surroundings, so it takes nutrients from its next available source. The sonar-reflecting plants are able to stand out in their environment due to their leaves, and thus are more appealing to the flying creatures. The feces from the bats fertilize the plant, and in return the bat gets roosting spots and possibly food.

Mutualism in Ecology

These sonar-reflecting plants and their bat buddies are far from the only mutually exclusive relationship we’ve seen in nature. Various species in our ecosystem depend on each other, a relationship also known as mutualism, in which both organisms benefit from the connection. For example, we wash our hands and take medicine to rid ourselves of bacteria. However, we live in harmony with some bacteria. We have bacteria in our intestines that work in tandem with our digestive system to keep us healthy. We can actually become sick if that bacterium gets affected by medication or medical procedures, as happens on occasion.

The Evolution Behind the Poop

These sonar-reflecting plants have adapted to their environment and have figured out a way to survive in an area where they were fighting to survive. Various plant and animal species do this, as we’ve seen over time, and it is a vicious cycle of competition between the species and their rivals. “Carnivorous plants in general have already solved the problem of nutrient deficiency in a very unusual way, by reversing the ‘normal system’ of animals feeding on plants,” Schoner said. “It is even more astonishing that in the case of N. hemsleyana [the pitcher plant] the system is taking a new turn.”


Nature lovers rejoice, atmoph digital widows are here to brighten up those gloomy indoors!