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Tequila and mezcal production could be halted by climate change

Making tequila and mezcal requires agave syrup extracted from a virtually climate-resistant plant. But the only animal that pollinates this special plant is rapidly disappearing as its natural habitat and food sources succumb to a warming world.

It’s Friday and you know what that means.

Millions of people will be heading out to their local watering hole for happy hour, with many choosing to sip on the popular and delicious margarita.

You might think there’s no way climate change could threaten to take tequila-based cocktails off the menu, but this could very well be the case sometime in the near future.

The Weber Azul plant, which provides the agave needed to make tequila and mezcal, is grown in the dry deserts of Central America. It is known commonly as the Blue Agave plant.

These plants have the capability to thrive in especially harsh climates with little to no requirement for water, but unpredictable weather and land degradation are starting to threaten the animal that pollinates them.

The animal in question is the Mexican long-nosed bat. New research has shown its natural habitats are disappearing and its food sources are starting to dwindle as temperatures rise higher in the region.

About the Mexican-long nosed bat

Experts from Bat Conservation International have explained how the relationship between Mexican long-nosed bats and the Blue Avage plant is entirely symbiotic. They say that losing one ‘would threaten the survival of the other.’

The Mexican long-nosed bat is native to Mexico and the Southeastern US can be spotted migrating between the two regions throughout the year.

It feeds on the nectar and ‘protein-rich pollen’ of dozens of species of plants in these areas. What makes it particularly special, is that it is the only animal that pollinates the Blue Agave plant.

With that knowledge, it’s easy to see how no bats equals no tequila.

Worried that the bat will disappear completely, US government-led wildlife organisations have outlined a plan to save the species from extinction. It starts with preserving and restoring the bat’s natural habitat, as well as its food sources.

Why not just farm Blue Agave plants elsewhere?

Besides the fact that there will be no bats to pollinate them, tequila is required by law to be produced in one of Mexico’s five states.

As such, it doesn’t make sense for growers to farm and process the Blue Agave plant in another region. Even if they were to do so, they would not be able to label their product as tequila.

This is a problem because the demand for agave-based alcohol is on the rise. According to official economic figures, the export value of mezcal rose from $20 million to $63 million between the years 2015 – 2020.

Since agave is an essential ingredient for tequila and mezcal production – and the endangered long-nosed bat key to their survival – the future of the much-loved spirit is unclear.

Let’s hope that the efforts of wildlife organisations are enough to save the long-nosed bat… and our beloved tequila.