Bats and the two banana plants that were flowering: Part 1

on 24th January 2015

Two of my banana plants (Musa ‘Cavendish’) were flowering on 2nd January 2015 (above). The inflorescence of the older plant had finished putting forth female flowers that were then developing into fruits. The inflorescence was in the process of exposing its first bunch of male flowers found towards the end, just above the inflorescence bud where only male flowers were left. This male bud would continue to produce male flowers for the next few weeks (below).

The younger plant had just extended its inflorescence and the oldest bract of the bud was in the process of being raised to expose the double rows of female flowers.

As I had already recorded the Cave Nectar Bats (Eonycteris spelaea) visiting these banana flowers LINK, I was curious to find out when and how often the bats would arrive to feed on the flower nectar.

The camera was thus set to video-record the two plants from 2130 hours on 2nd January to 0200 hours on 3rd January 2014. The video clips were examined and a consolidated clip was compiled as shown below.

The bats arrived mostly after 2130 hours. According to Benjamin Lee, who has been studying bats for the past few years, these Cave Nectar Bats leave their nearby roost about an hour or so before to forage.

Bats regularly flew past the two trees at about 20-30 minutes intervals. A few approached the banana flowers but failed to actually land on them. Only after 2230 hours did one landed on the flowers to feed on the nectar. And up till 0200 hours when observations ended, there were two other feedings.

Why only three instances of nectar feeding were recorded is a puzzle. Was it possible that most of the bats flying through were Common Fruit Bats (Cynopterus brachyotis), as suggested by Benjamin? Or was it because there was a spotlight on during the period that discouraged most, but not all Cave Nectar Bats from feeding?

Another interesting observation was that all three instances of feeding involved the older inflorescence bearing male flowers and not the younger with female flowers. This would suggest that male flowers produced more nectar (above) and the early blooming female flowers little or no nectar at all (below). I suspect that as the flowering moves from the tip of the flowering bud down, the amount of nectar increases, as earlier observations showed that these bats did visit female flowers.

Note that female flowers have abortive stamens and male flowers abortive ovary. And although nectar is produced to lure nectar-feeding animals to visit the flower, and in the process help in pollination, our cultivated bananas have evolved to become parthenocarpic, that is, the female flowers do not need to be pollinated to develop into fruits.

YC Wee & Benjamin Lee
January 2015

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

5 responses

  1. Is it true that banana plants will die after fruiting?

    An interesting feeding-related thing that happened to one of my lime plants a few years back:

    I had 4 lime plants growing in pots in my apartment. They all looked the same, had roughly the same number of leaves and were of the same height (all were planted from seeds from the same fruit at the same time a few years prior). One day a female lime butterfly laid a single egg on one of these plants. Shortly thereafter a caterpillar emerged and began eating the plant’s leaves. I allowed it to stay on the plant and it eventually became a butterfly. It only ate that plant’s leaves. During the caterpillar’s life cycle, the plant the mother butterfly had chosen for it still thrived, despite its leaves being eaten. On the other hand, the other 3 lime plants began dying slowly for some reason. Could the mother butterfly have known that the other lime plants were “doomed”, hence the reason why she chose the only “healthy” lime plant for her offspring?

    1. Banana plant will die after bearing fruits. We usually chop off the plant to give more space to the suckers.

      HaHa, I do not think the butterfly has prior knowledge of the impending death of the other plants. If it laid a single egg, then it must be short of eggs on that day. Usually the butterfly will lay many eggs.

      1. Really? This is new info to me (re the butterfly). I read somewhere that the lime butterfly only lays a single egg. So this is wrong? Anyway, a very happy Lunar New Year to you YC and all at BESG!

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