Pollinators - Lesser Long-nosed Bat

Lesser Long-nose bats are connoisseurs of cactus. With tongues as long as their bodies, lesser long-nosed bats (Leptonycteris yerbabuena) are unsung heroes in maintaining fragile desert ecosystems.

a small bat held in a gloved hand, covered in pollen
From brush-tipped tongues to bodies covered in fine hair that gathers pollen, the lesser long-nosed bat is a perfectly-designed pollinator.

NPS Photo

Connoisseurs of Cactus

With tongues as long as their bodies, lesser long-nosed bats (Leptonycteris yerbabuena) sip the nectar of cacti and agave flowers.

The bats are lured by the scent of night-blooming desert flowers, such as those produced by saguaro and organ pipe cacti. The flowers are light-colored, which makes them easier for the bats to see. Being agile fliers, the bats hover over the blossoms as they poke their slender noses deep within.

Using their long, brush-tipped tongues to lap up sweet nectar, the bats then emerge from their banquet with heads covered in pollen. They unwittingly pollinate flower after flower as they continue to feed.

a saguaro cactus
Bats are the primary pollinator of the saguaro cactus.

NPS Photo

Heroes of the Desert

Often unsung, desert nectar-feeding bats are true heroes in maintaining fragile desert ecosystems in the southwestern United States and Mexico. They are the primary night pollinators of both the organ pipe and saguaro cactus. In turn, growing up to 50 feet in height, the cacti provide important nesting and perching sites for a variety of birds, such as red-tailed hawks, elf owls, Gila woodpeckers, and gilded flickers.

As the season progresses, the bats’ diets focus on the sweet fruit produced by desert cacti. They are able to consume the fruits’ pulp, but the seeds pass through the bats’ digestive tracts intact, thus aiding in the dispersal of cactus plant seeds.

a bat in flight
Desert bats return to the same roosts such as caves and mine shafts

NPS Photo

Bats in Balance

The lesser long-nosed bat was listed as an endangered species in 1988. Its survival is hampered by loss of habitat and invasive plants. Also the agave industry may deprive the bats of nectar sources, as the commercial practice is to cut all agave flower buds before they bloom. In certain locations and times of year, this lack could be life-threatening.

Lesser long-nosed bats roost by day in caves or abandoned mine shafts. The same places are used year after year and may also serve as maternity wards for the bats to give birth and raise young “pups.” The bats are picky in their choice of refuge, requiring a fairly constant environment and protection from predators.

There are about 40 known lesser long-nosed bat roosts throughout their entire range (Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico) and only three maternity roosts are known to exist in the United States. Roost disturbance through human activities, such as caving or rock-climbing, may pose another significant threat to the bats’ survival.

a small mountain covered in shrubs and low plant growth
Lesser long-nosed bats live in desert scrub ecosystems like Montezuma Peak in Coronado National Memorial, Arizona.

NPS Photo / Katy Hooper

Lesser Long-nosed Bats & National Parks

Lesser long-nosed bats are found in desert scrub habitat in southern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, western Mexico, Central America, and Baja California del Sur. The National Park Services promotes bat conservation through research, educational projects, and working with multiple private, non-profit, and federal and state agency partners.

Examples of conservation measures include conducting bat population surveys and marking bats to track their migratory routes and identify crucial habitat. Access to caves and abandoned mine shafts where bats may be roosting is being limited through public education and the installation of bat-friendly entrance gates.

Coronado National Memorial, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Saguaro National Park

Last updated: October 6, 2023