The Surprising Role Bats Play in Making Your Margarita

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The next time you have a margarita, raise your glass to the humble bat. Long-nosed bats are the main pollinators of agave, the plant used to make both tequila and mezcal. (Tequila is specifically made from blue agave, or Agave tequilana, while mezcal can be made from any species of the plant.) These agave plants open their flowers at night, attracting bats with their sugary nectar, and in turn, the bats help spread their pollen.

One of those bats, the lesser long-nosed bat, just got off the endangered species list in April 2018, as The Washington Post reported. It's the first bat species ever to recover its population enough to be taken off the Endangered Species List. Its revival is due, in part, to tequila producers along the bat's migration route between Mexico and the southwestern U.S. making their growing methods a little more bat-friendly.

While the relationship between bats and agave might be mutualistic, the one between bats and booze isn't necessarily so. Typical agave production for tequila and mezcal involves harvesting the plant right before it reaches sexual maturity—the flowering stage—because that's when its sugar content peaks, and because after the plant flowers, it dies. Instead of letting the plants reproduce naturally through pollination, farmers plant the clones that grow at the agave plant's base, known as hijuelos. That means fields of agave get razed before bats get the chance to feed off those plants. This method is bad for bats, but it's not great for agave, either; over time, it leads to inbred plants that have lower genetic diversity than their cross-pollinated cousins, ones that require more and more pesticides to keep them healthy.

Rodrigo Medellín, an ecologist who has been nicknamed the "Bat Man of Mexico," has been leading the crusade for bat-friendly tequila for decades, trying to convince tequila producers to let some of just 5 percent of their plants flower. The Tequila Interchange Project—a nonprofit organization made up of tequila producers, scientists, and tequila enthusiasts—led to the release of three bat-friendly agave liquors in the U.S. in 2016: two tequilas, Siembra Valles Ancestral and Tequila Ocho, and a mezcal, Don Mateo de la Sierra.

In 2017, when Medellín and his team visited the agave fields of Don Mateo de la Sierra to gather data, they discovered that the project was even more bat-friendly than they thought. The Mexican long-nosed bat, another endangered species, was also taking its meals at the field's flowering plants.

This weekend, raise a glass of tequila to all the bats out there—just make sure it's a bat-friendly brand.

A Team of Cigarette Butt-Collecting Birds Are Keeping a French Theme Park Litter-Free

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The six rooks pecking at litter within the Puy du Fou theme park in Les Epesses, France, aren't unwelcome pests: They're part of the staff. As AFP reports, the trained birds have been dispatched to clean up garbage and cigarettes butts from the park grounds.

Rooks are a member of the corvid family, a group of intelligent birds that also includes ravens and crows. At Puy du Fou, an educational amusement park with attractions inspired by various periods from French history, the rooks will flit around park, pick up any bits of litter that haven't been properly disposed of, and deliver them to a receptacle in exchange for a treat. At least that's how the system is set up to work: The full team of six rooks has only been on the job since August 13.

Employing birds as trash collectors may seem far-fetched, but the experiment has precedent. The Dutch startup Crowded Cities recently started training crows to gather cigarette butts using a vending machine-like device. Once the crows were taught to associate the rig with free peanuts, the machine was tweaked so that it only dispensed food when the crow nudged a cigarette butt resting on a ledge into the receptacle. The cigarette butts were eventually removed, and the birds figured out that they had to find the litter in the wild if they wanted to continue receiving their snacks.

Crowded Cities had planned to conduct more research on the method's effectiveness, as well as the potentially harmful effects of tobacco on crows, before bringing their vending machines to public spaces. Puy du Fou, meanwhile, has become one of the first—if not the first—businesses to fully implement the strategy on a major scale.

Even if it doesn't prove to be practical, Puy du Fou president Nicolas de Villiers told AFP that cleaning up the park is only part of the goal. He also hopes the birds will demonstrate that "nature itself can teach us to take care of the environment."

[h/t AFP]

Wasps Are Getting Drunk and Terrorizing People in England

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Go home, wasps. You’re drunk.

Thousands of “boozy wasps” are terrorizing the UK after imbibing the nectar of fermented fruit and cider left behind at pub gardens, Travel + Leisure reports. Experts warn that there’s a greater risk of getting stung at this time of year, especially while boozing outdoors or eating sweet foods.

The sudden change in diet highlights an issue with the insects' food supply: Wasps typically drink a kind of sugar-spit produced by larvae, but the hive queens have already stopped laying larvae by this time of year, and wasps have been unable to get their fill. They also carry a genetic trait that makes them go crazy for sugary foods and alcohol, and other factors have escalated the problem. For one, last year's cold winter translated to an early wasp season, which allowed them to build larger-than-normal nests.

"Wasps have built absolutely massive nests and, now that all the larvae have grown up and the queen has stopped laying eggs, the colonies have a workforce with nothing to do—and nothing to eat," pest control expert Shane Jones told the Daily Mail. "So they go down to the pub, obviously."

What they really want is sugar, which can be found in fermented fruit, cider, and fruity beers. Because wasps are lightweights, just one sip will get them drunk—and you don’t want to see them when they’re tipsy. "Wasps can't handle their booze, so they get tanked-up and fighty—like lager louts,” Jones says. Alcohol can make the insects more irritable and more likely to sting people.

The best way to avoid the problem, according to Dee Ward-Thompson, technical manager at the British Pest Control Association, is to keep the sugary goodies they're craving out of sight. “Maybe the most influential factor on wasp numbers is when people do not dispose of their waste properly, especially food with a high sugar content, such as fruit," Ward-Thompson told the Nottingham Post. “We always advise waste to be securely bagged and held within a clean container, away from where young children might play.”

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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