Famed bat biologist Dr. Bernal Rodriguez Herrera of University of Costa Rica, published a paper last week describing the bizarre mating ritual of what he called the “Masked Seducer” of the bat world, the Centurio Senex. The Latin name means “the hundred year old man”, referring to the odd, scrunched up, wrinkled face of this bat whose sex drive is apparently anything but geriatric.
Up until 2018, Dr. Rodriguez had only seen 15 wrinkle face bats, during his entire 30 year career. Dr. Sharlene Santana of University of Washington, also a bat biologist, called them “elusive and utterly weird, some tropical bat biologists go their entire career without catching one.” Dr. Rodriguez, however, stumbled upon dozens of them in Costa Rica, and was able to study and even film their behavior, most interestingly their mating rituals.
In September of 2018, Dr. Rodriguez and his team of scientists ventured into a particularly sweltering and forbidding area of a Costa Rican rain forest, and struck gold. They found dozens of Centurio Senex bats nestled in the trees, more than any other scientists had managed to observe thus far. They spent 13 nights documenting, recording and studying the bats, and discovered that these bats had one of the rarest courtship rituals ever observed, among some 1,400 known bat species.
The males of this species have a hairless face with a furry body, but most unusual is their white mask that they cover their faces with, unless they are having sex. The scientists described the Centurio Senex as looking like “a very wrinkly old man with very big eyes, wearing a turtleneck.” The bright white masks seem to attract females, who also seem to be attracted by a skunkish, musky odor that the male releases from his chin area. The male bats are able to use what look like thumbs on their wings to lift or lower the mask. Serious sex appeal.
Scientists were able to film the male bats hanging upside down by their feet, and when a possible female approached, they erupted into a symphony of wing beating and clapping, accompanied by a series of odd vocalizations that ended in an eerie low frequency whistle. The females chose the bat who put on the best show, he lowered his facemask, and the couple copulated briefly. This romantic dance went on all night. They described the encounter like this, “A female sidled up to a warbling male, who lowered his mask. The pair engaged in a 30 second tryst that involved the male visibly vibrating as he embraced his partner. Shortly thereafter, the female grew restless and left. The male donned his mask anew.”
According to Dr. Rodriguez, this odd courtship strategy is called a “lek”, a group of males who hang out together in a “mating arena”, and compete fiercely to get the girl. Visiting females select some of the most extravagant suitors, then copulate with them and leave. “Lekking” is considered highly unusual among bats.
The other distinguishing feature of the Centurio Senex bat is its amazingly powerful bite, one that allows it to eat fruits other bats cannot, which are often stored in pouches in their mouths, to be eaten later. These bats are well equipped for survival, incorporating a healthy sex drive with the ability to maintain a good supply of nutrition.
Dr. Rodriguez’s paper was published in the scientific journal PLos One. His friends fondly call him Bat Man
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