One morning in the Panamanian rainforest, a little fruit bat assessed its competition. The odds didn’t seem to be in his favor.
The winged mammal, a Seba short-tailed bat, weighed about half an ounce. But his six opponents, fringe-lipped bats, were twice as heavy and occupied the shrouded corner where the little bat wanted to roost. Worse, larger bats have been known to feast on small animals, such as frogs, grasshoppers, and lesser bats, including Seba’s short-tailed bats.
None of this fazed the Seba’s short-tailed bat, which began screaming, flapping its wings and throwing its body at the group of larger bats, slapping one in the face. more than 50 times.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Ahana Aurora Fernandez, a behavioral biologist at Berlin’s Museum of Natural History, who viewed a recording of the bats but was not involved in the research that revealed it. ‘produced. “It’s one bat against six,” said Dr. Fernandez. “He shows no fear at all.”
The little bat’s belligerence paid off as the big bats fled. The corner cleared, Seba’s short-tailed bat moved in, joined a minute later by its companion, who had nonchalantly watched the fight up close.
This amusing scuffle and two similar incidents of bat bullying at other roosts were observed by Mariana Muñoz-Romo, a biologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and her colleagues, who were monitoring the sexual preferences of larger bats. with fringed lips. In a March article in the journal Behavior, they asked how often small bats oppose larger ones. When there is a risk of being eaten, why fight?
Researchers initially set out to study fringe-lipped bats, which were recently found to coat their arms with a sticky, scented substance, potentially to attract mates. The animals also have impressive appetites and have been observed eating sizeable frogs.
“Sometimes they’ll take a nap with the frog sticking out of their mouth, and then they’ll wake up and continue to eat,” said Rachel Page, a scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and author of the paper.
Fringe-lipped bats have never been observed eating a Seba short-tailed bat. But an earlier report of an abandoned house overrun with fringe-lipped bats noted the skeletal remains of Seba’s short-tailed bats on the ground below, Dr Muñoz-Romo said.
Seba’s short-tailed bats are common in Central and South America. The small size of males does not prevent them from being aggressive. Maria Sagot, a behavioral ecologist at SUNY Oswego, said bats prefer to roost in protected craters on the ceiling of tropical caves. “Groups usually live in these holes,” said Dr. Sagot, who was not involved in the new study. “They usually fight for a good position in these holes.” Males also fight to defend their harem mates from other males, she added.
The male Seba’s short-tailed bats have an increasing repertoire of maneuvers along their wings. First they vocalize them or shake them, trying to intimidate others from a distance. They then slap the other bats’ faces with their wingtips, throwing their bodies and biting – the same tactic Seba’s short-tailed bat used against its fringe-lipped opponents. The authors hypothesize that this innate aggressiveness may have led the little bat to attack its larger neighbors in defense of its mate.
Another question concerns the price of the bat fight: A corner in the square concrete roost where the researchers were studying them. “You have four corners inside,” Dr. Muñoz-Romo said. “Why this corner if you have three more inside?”
The researchers hypothesize that the coveted corner’s microclimate may have made it drier, darker, or more sheltered. “We speculate a lot about what makes a roost attractive to bats,” Dr. Fernandez said, adding that they often don’t accept artificial roosts.
The authors’ final hypothesis assumes that Seba’s short-tailed bat may have launched a preemptive attack. “Maybe these guys were so high-spirited that they were like, ‘Don’t even pick on us. We’re not going to be easy prey for you,'” Dr Page said.
Researchers hope to understand if many Seba short-tailed bats choose these fights or if there are only a few aggressive males, Dr Page said.
Even though the video shows Seba’s short-tailed bat to be “absolutely annoying” and fringe-lipped bats to be “super peaceful”, Dr. Muñoz-Romo speculated that novel dynamics could give the smallest aggressor a reason for his rage. Perhaps Seba’s short-tailed bats roosted in the corner first, before the larger fringe-lipped bats took over.
“Who is the one who arrives first?” she asked. “Who is moving who?
Seba’s short-tailed bat was not in imminent danger of being eaten thanks to the excellent timing of its crusade: it was 10 a.m. and the predatory bats had returned from a night of feasting , although he may not know it.
“Imagine having to eat a large size pizza after you’ve already eaten everything for hours,” Dr. Muñoz-Romo said.
Saved by a full belly from his enemies, the tiny little bat healed himself and quickly dozed off, resting his wings for when he needed to slap again.