Now known as “the masked seducers,” male wrinkle-faced bats (Centurio senex) attract the ladies with their distinctive face masks.
Now known as “the masked seducers,” male wrinkle-faced bats (Centurio senex) attract the ladies with their distinctive face masks. The bat’s scientific name roughly means “100 year old man,” in reference to their wrinkly faces. Males also have distinctive white, velvety flaps of skin under their chin, which they fold over their face like a face mask.
Found in tropical forest habitat ranging from Mexico to the northern reaches of South America, wrinkle-faced bats are one of the few bat species that lek to attract mates. Lekking is a behavior when males gather together in one area (called a ‘lek’) to strut their stuff, trying to appear as attractive as possible in order to woo females. Females can then peruse these males, choosing with whom to mate. In their leks, male wrinkle-faced bats groom their bodies on branches, vocalize, and maybe even smear around their scent. But lekking isn’t easy on the males. Instead of spending the night foraging for squishy, overripe fruit, or hard seeds, they spend their time waiting for females to make their selection.
Researchers in Costa Rica found males would spend about half the night hanging from perches, with their skin-flap facial mask raised to cover most of their faces, sometimes slightly moving their wing tips or vocalizing, waiting. When an interested female would arrive, she would land very close to the male and he would lower his face mask, they would face each other, and then reposition and mate.
While scientists have started to learn a bit more about wrinkle-faced bats’ love lives, the courtship and mating rituals of many species are still a mystery. The nocturnal and secretive nature of bat’s activities means their different mating behaviors are largely unobserved by humans, including bat researchers. A review by bat researchers Gary McCracken and Gerald Wilkinson in 2000 reported that we only know the mating habits of about 7% of known bat species. Over the past few decades we’ve been making progress with better technology. New tools like infrared cameras and ultrasound recorders provide new abilities to peek into the world of bat love.