Neotropical leaf-nosed bats are the subjects of the first study to measure how the tooth structure of wild mammals is related to their ability to break down natural food sources from insects to fruit.
Such leaf-nosed (Phyllostomid) bats live in a multitude of different habitats from rainforests to savanna and have the most varied dietry ecology of any mammal family.
Scientists from the US compared the teeth of 17 different species of bat from Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico. They included omnivores, fruit specialists and insect-eaters such as Mimon crenulatum above.
Dr Sharlene E. Santana and her team used 3D modelling to investigate the bats' tooth structure and found that fruit-eating bats (pictured) have more complex cheek (molar) teeth than insectivores and omnivores.
The surfaces of teeth were also studied using the same technology geographers use to map mountain ranges. These laser scans reveal that fruit-eating bats' molars have complex, bumpy surfaces.
"We believe that the more complex teeth of fruit-eating species is due to a tooth shape that has evolved for cutting through, crushing and grinding fruit pulp," says Dr Santana.
Although they also eat fruit, omnivorous species (pictured) were not found to have the same specialised surfaces. Like insectivores, they have less complex tooth surfaces with fewer sharp edges.
Instead, insect-eating bats have "shearing" molars with blade-like edges, which researchers believe are an adaptation to help the bats cleave insect prey from their tough exoskeletons.
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