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You Should Thank Bats for Protecting Your Tequila Supply

Every time you take a shot of tequila, give thanks to the blood-sucking bat, because it's one of the main reasons that agave plants are able to survive.

What could possibly link creepy, blood-sucking bats with tequila? It's not Batman getting wasted in Dawn of Justice, but the simple fact that the misunderstood creature actually makes tequila possible thanks to being one of the blue agave's main pollinators.

Bats fly every night to fill themselves up on bugs with energy and to feed their litter, but during these trips, they pollinate agave plants by spreading the seeds that allow new agave to grow. It's as if nature is serving everything on a silver platter for us. Well, not really.


For decades, many Mexican tequila makers have disregarded this beautiful lifecycle because the process takes longer that they are willing to wait for. The industrial producers prefer reproduction by bulbillo, a process that involves harvesting the agave before it blooms. Then all of the little sprouts that grow from the root are transplanted, which will eventually transform into ripe agave plants that will be ready to make mead. This saves a lot of time, but it wastes a lot of the genetic diversity of the plant. The harvested agaves are also less resistant to plague and fungus, but above all, to the TMA (Sadness and Death of Agave), one of the most resistant group of diseases.

If there's no genetic diversity, the agave turns susceptible to the bacteria and the fungus will kill it. The pollination from the bats—which takes place when the agave blooms—boosts the resistance of the agave to plague.


So bats are wonderful, and we love them because they allow us to have higher quality agaves that produce tequila and mezcal. But nobody really cares.

In Mexico, we have approximately 138 species of bats and around 250 varieties of native agave. The smallest magueyero bat, a.k.a. Leptonycteris yerabauenae, possesses a tongue that is as long as its body and feeds itself from the agave flower nectar during its migration, pollinizing, and spreading seeds, all of which contributes to the reproduction of the centennial plant.


We've lived too long without realizing any of this because bats tend to have a bad reputation. Some people even think that they are the devil's work, and tequila producers know that the creatures aren't required to use in order to make money.

The main problem is that the tequila, mezcal, and pulque industries don't allow the agave plant to reach its full development because they want to produce mass quantities. In doing so, they put the main source of food for the bats in danger, which was the main cause for the magueyero plant going on the verge of extinction a few years ago.

Fortunately for our agave-loving friends, bats are in Batman's hands, but I'm not talking about Bruce Wayne. Rodrigo Medellín, a biologist and researcher from the Universidad Autónoma de Mexico's Department of Ecology (UNAM), is the person who managed to pull the maguayero bat off of the endangered species list after 20 years of hard work. Medellín is an advocate for these animals, evangelizing their harmless, important environmental efforts as pollinators and blue agave seed dispensers.

"For the past 50 years, tequila fields have been sown and re-sown with the agave clones that grow from the mother plant and not with seeds. That is why tequila businessmen don't care whether or not bats work as pollinators," Medellín tells me.

This industry is digging its own grave and will leave us with an uncertain future for the agave if we don't do something about it.

But Batman is not alone in this battle. Mexican biologist Angelica Mencheca, who also works for conserving the species', is also conducting an experiment to study the genetic variability of agave. "I am studying the genes associated with the migration. Though the combination of genetic and environmental information, I will understand which genes are regulating the migration of bat and which environmental conditions affect this phenomenon. This knowledge constitutes an essential element for the conservation planning," she explains to me.

However, it's not that easy because not all bats migrate. The experiment wants to protect some key areas that favor the migration of the female bat—who is able to migrate—and lay down these routes to design an appropriate conservation plan for the magueyero bat.

We're counting on a great team of researchers who are fastidiously working for the ecosystem's balance, but it's not just their responsibility alone. They're also looking to convince farmers to let a percentage of their agave plants bloom so that the bats can pollinate them, maintaining plant diversity in the long run.

With mezcal's popularity on the rise, people are becoming more interested in controlling the environmental impact of its overproduction. Maybe in the next few years, we'll find a mezcal brand called "Batman." Now that's a multi-million dollar idea right there.