Masking Up For Courtship

Whether it’s The Batman or the historic wearing of masks in Vienna as part of hiding the wearer’s identity or social status, covering the face, even partially creates a mystery especially as a precursor to courtship.

This is not just found in in the human species but new research has shone a light on similar behaviour in a bat.

Centurio senex is a wrinkle-faced bat found in Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.

Male C. senex from Costa Rica Credit: Marco Tschapka

The species shows a distinct sexual dimorphism: Adult males have a fold of skin under the chin that can be raised to cover the lower part of the face like a mask, suggesting that it might be used during courtship behaviour.

But this species has rarely been studied, so little is known about its behaviour and natural history.

In the new study, by Bernal Rodríguez-Herrera of the Universidad de Costa Rica, and colleagues, the researchers report the first observations of echolocation and mating behavior of C. senex. They analyzed synchronized audio and video recordings from an aggregation of males located on 53 perches in Costa Rica over a period of six weeks.

This species appears to use lek courtship, in which females choose mates from clusters of sexually displaying presumably territorial males. Among mammals, lek courtship is known to be used by only 12 species, mainly seals and hoofed mammals.

When females approached, the perched males beat their wings and emitted very loud, low-frequency whistling calls. The males lowered their masks immediately before copulation, then sang enthusiastically and raised their masks again after mating.

According to the authors, future encounters with C. senex may close some of the current gaps in knowledge on the behavior of one of the most iconic bats of the Neotropics.

The authors add: “[Centurio senex] ‘court with the mask on’…the mating system of the most enigmatic bat species in the Neotropics appears to be lek, a rarely recorded mating system in bats.”

The study was published November in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Bernal Rodríguez-Herrera of the Universidad de Costa Rica, and colleagues.

Also on masks: Masks – Ancient & Modern

Categories: Science

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