Serotine Bats Rewrite Mammalian Mating Norms: Study Reveals Unique Reproductive Behavior Without Penetration

Image by Parker_West from Pixabay

Serotine bats, scientifically known as Eptesicus serotinus, are challenging the norms of mammalian mating behavior, as researchers discover they may be the first mammals to mate without penetration. A study published in Current Biology details the unique reproductive biology of these bats, unveiling that the male uses its penis more like an arm to move a protective membrane away from the female’s vulva, allowing genital contact without penetration.

The nocturnal and secretive nature of bats has made their reproductive biology challenging to study, but a Dutch bat enthusiast’s efforts, involving 18 video cameras in a Netherlands church housing a serotine bat colony, provided valuable insights. Analyzing 93 mating events in detail, researchers observed copulation without penetration in approximately half of the recorded episodes, with some lasting over 12 hours, resembling a “cloacal kiss” seen in bird mating.

The study addresses a long-standing puzzle about the reproductive biology of serotine bats. Mismatched genitalia, where the male’s penis is significantly larger than the female’s vagina, presents difficulties for traditional penetrative mating. The observed behavior of using genital contact as a copulatory mechanism raises questions about sperm transfer, prompting further investigation.

While some experts find the findings “bizarre and unique,” others emphasize the need for additional evidence to support these claims. Study coauthor Susanne Holtze acknowledges the open question of how sperm transfer occurs and emphasizes the potential impact on assisted reproduction in bats. With over 1,000 bat species, many of which are endangered, the study aims to contribute to establishing assisted reproduction strategies. Additionally, insights into bat reproduction may have implications for understanding human infertility, given the extreme behaviors exhibited during bat reproduction, from sperm storage to extending pregnancy durations.

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