Naama Barak
June 19, 2019

Fun fact of the day: Egyptian fruit-bat females are quite the cunning seductresses, trading food for sex, at least according to new Israeli research.

The female bats living in captivity were observed by researchers from Tel Aviv University to be consistently taking food right from the mouths of their male peers. This led the scientists to wonder why exactly the latter put up with such behavior. Their discovery was a surprising one – the male bats were repaid for their accommodating behavior with sex.

“Originally, we wondered, ‘Why do the producers of food allow scroungers to take food from their mouths? Maybe they’re stronger?’ But we found that most of the scroungers are female and so we considered the possibility that females trade mating for food. This was our hypothesis, and, indeed, we found that this is the case,” explains Prof. Yossi Yovel of Tel Aviv University.

There are various reasons why animals might be willing to share food. In some cases, food is shared with relatives. In others, the cost of defending food resources may be too great. But, as the study now published in Current Biology shows, sharing food sometimes comes with other delayed benefits – including sex.

To explore the food-for-sex hypothesis in the study, researchers monitored producer-scrounger interactions of a captive Egyptian fruit-bat colony for over a year. They later determined the paternity of the pups that were born in the colony.

“The results were quite clear. Females gave birth to the young of males from which they had scrounged food,” Yovel says.

The research also showed that there was almost no overlap between males preferred by each female. This suggests that females choose males to scrounge from based on some form of individual preference, which changed from year to year.

“Going forward, we intend to explore how these relationships evolve and change over many years,” Yovel concludes. “We would also like to find out how these interactions observed in captivity play out in wild populations.”

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