Female Egyptian fruit bats who live in captivity are often spotted snatching food directly from the mouths of their male counterparts without conflict.
Sharing Is Caring
The generous behavior of males puzzled scientists, who wondered whether they allowed other bats to take their food due to strength, size, or something else. Some animals share their food with relatives or their pack, while others simply share because defending their food is too challenging.
In the case of Egyptian fruit bats, sharing food comes with a very specific benefit. Researchers from Tel Aviv University published a study in the journal Current Biology that explains how the female bats get away with it: sex. It turns out that for bats, it's normal to exchange food for mating with the two types of interactions linked.
"We found a strong relationship between producer-scrounger feeding interactions and reproduction," said lead author and TAU professor Yossi Yovel in a statement, adding that the female bats gave birth to pups with the males they often scrounged food from. "Three to four months before mating, the females start scrounging for food from several males. Then they eventually mate with one of the males, the one with which they forged the strongest bond."
Yovel and the rest of the team observed three captive bat colonies, noting that the bats either collected food for themselves or scrounged them from other bats in their colony. It's found that these interactions begin weeks before mating with the females intensifying interactions with a number of males before choosing to mate with one of them.
Food For Sex Hypothesis
The study authors went on to monitor the behavior of a captive Egyptian fruit bat colony for more than a year to explore the possibility of their food-for-sex hypothesis. Specifically, they kept track of the interactions within the colony, then determined the paternity of the newborn pups based on genetics.
Results were extremely straightforward, according to the authors who found that the females mated and gave birth to pups of the males who provided them with food for months.
"The findings lend support for the food-for-sex hypothesis in this species," Yovel stated.
Another interesting discovery is that there was nearly no overlap in the male preference of the female bats. This suggests that the creatures were choosing their scrounging source and mating partners based on what appears to be individual preference. Additionally, their preferences vary from year to year.
Further research from the team will include exploring how the relationships of the bats evolve over several years. According to Yovel, they will also be studying whether this specific behavior of captive bats are shared by populations in the wild.