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Homosexual bats

Damn you, LJ, for making me spend time researching gay bats.

One unquestioned fact: if you try to investigate homosexuality in bats on the internet, you're going to spend a lot of time wondering just what Batman and Robin were up to in the back of that Batmobile. This is not a digression, at least according to Google. You will also find that some people like to attack gay people with bats. This also, sadly, is not a digression. And you will find people asserting that bats are the gayest creatures around.

What you will not easily find on the Internet is any indepth discussion of homosexuality in bats. You will, however, find numerous people saying happily and firmly that bats have the highest level of homosexuality found in any animal species -- a point made frequently, and without a citation to any published study. I found this intriguing, given the very real fact that we have barely begun to study and quantify sexual behavior in mammal species, let alone other animal species; in fact, the behavior patterns of many mammal species remain largely unknown. So I would hesitate to name any animal "the gayest" -- I mean, so far almost no-one has even seen an Andrew's Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon bowdoni) in the wild, and for all we know those whales are just throwing fabulous parties down there in the Antarctic. Or not. But this sort of ignorance is precisely why I hesitate to award any animal the title of Gayest Animal Ever.

I don't mean to imply that the "bats are gay" comments are made up wholesale: at least some of the Internet stuff probably comes from a book entitled Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (2000), a book I haven't read, but which apparently discusses both bats and the reluctance of scientists to study homosexual behavior, or even consider that homosexual behavior – or sex for pure fun – is going on in most species aside from humans. (Sex for pure fun does occur in other primates and in at least seven dolphin species; it's most definitely not restricted to humans.) I assume, too, that other observations of homosexuality in bats have been made – seems reasonable, given observations of homosexual behavior in other animals. So it's not necessarily completely made-up, but unproven.

But, having failed to find a detailed discussion of gay bats on the world wide web, I turned to a search through the scientific literature...and didn't find much there, either.

Clearly, quite a lot of people are happily and extensively studying bats. Proquest almost made me cry. You can find out about bat diets and bat foraging and bat ecology and what happens when you put up a shiny metal gate near bats and how female hoary bats (Lasiurus cinereus select their roosts. (This last includes some nice charts and an interesting description of scientists gently "probing" bat abdomens for pregnancy. See? None of you really have strange jobs.) And how bats collide into wind farms (sniffle) and use old abandoned mines, and that male bats in the Greater Fundy National Park Ecosystem of New Brunswick, Canada tend to be solitary, sulking creatures who insist on roosting alone. Ooh, and some bats have harems. And this is only a few bits of the many, many bat things out there.

(I refuse to make the pun about going batty with bat information. Just refuse to. Really.)

But clearly, gay bats are not attracting a lot of scientific interest. And even articles about the sex life of bats (which are primarily concerned with DNA testing) do not get into same-sex bat pairings -- perhaps because the scientists aren't looking for them, or are assuming that the only important pairings are opposite-sex ones since they propogate the species, or are just assuming that they don't occur when they do, or wish to assure us that bats are heterosexual. In the article about bat harems, for example, we are assured that outside the compact and stable social networks of a single adult male with two to 14 adult females, the solitary individuals form "loose bachelor clusters on walls and ceiling of caves, without any apparent social link." The concept that these bachelor bats might get a little kinky while flying around outside the caves is never mentioned, although we are assured that sometimes these young single bats sort of but not quite hook up, forming "temporary clusters of individuals of both sexes." The bats outside the harem were pretty darn restless, on the whole. And, in a heart warming story, one harem decided to kick out its male and go join another harem (sniffle) and -- that male was never seen again. See what happens when you lose your harem? (The article doesn't explain why the harem kicked the dude out.) Oh. And some of the female bats are decidedly unfaithful.*

But what fascinates me is the complete disconnect here: the statements on the Net cheerfully assuring us that bats are gay, contrasted with this considerably duller statement from a scientific journal:

"…we know less about the mating systems of bats (summarized in McCracken & Wilson 2000) than in more conspicuous species, for example, in birds or large animals." **

(Interestingly, this second article later assumes that male bats are only interested in getting it on with female bats, even when the DNA evidence suggests that a lot of male bats in this population aren't exactly doing much to accomplish this.)

Admittedly, I can't call this is a comprehensive search of the scientific literature: nonetheless, clearly, the number of articles studying other bat behaviors (what they eat, how they eat, what trees they like, and so on) far, far outweighs the few articles on bat sexuality. And the bat sexuality articles, for the most part, seem uninterested in the study of homosexual bats – possibly because that sort of behavior can't be easily traced by DNA evidence, and, more to the point, isn't overly helpful in understanding what we need to do to preserve bat populations – the key focus of most bat studies today. (And rabies in Brazilian bats, but that's an entirely separate and horrific entry.) The disconnect between popular interest and scientific study is clear.

Perhaps because at least some scientists would agree with me: attempting to determine any truths about human sexuality and behavior from observations of creatures that spend most of their time sleeping in caves is probably futile at best. I mean, they eat bugs. Which is, of course, a kink for some people, but not for most of us.

On a final note, some bat species definitely have some kinky tendencies:


Not to mention all that group bat sex going on in Mexico.

Incest. Homosexuality. Bats. It must be almost the weekend.

* Ortega, J, Arita. (1999) H. Structure and Social Dynamics of Harem Groups in Artibeus jamaicensis (Chiroptera: Phyllostomidae). Journal of Mammalogy. 80:4.

** Kerth, G., Morf, L. (2004) Behavioural and Genetic Data Suggest That Bechstein's Bats Predominantly Mate Outside the Breeding Habitat. Ethology. 110: 987.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 17th, 2006 08:12 pm (UTC)
That is so freakin' weird. Not about the gay bats (although that's something that really should be studied at length), but about the fact that, just over an hour ago, I said to myself whilst browsing baaaabyanimals, "Man, I love bats. I wonder if I can have a pet bat?" It came out of the blue, swear to Batman.

I'd like to have my brain cell back now, thanks.
Feb. 18th, 2006 04:32 pm (UTC)
Well, I could blog about the amusements of having two gay bats for pets...

....except that that would require actually getting the bats and not having them torture the cats, or vice versa.

Why would you want a pet bat?
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 17th, 2006 08:38 pm (UTC)
I do know that homosexuality has been observed in orangutans and chimpanzees in both genders, and studies have shown that bonobos appear to be in a continuous state of arousal and really don't care what they boink.

I have no idea why bats in particular. I suspect that a large part of the problem is that sexuality in animals in general is vastly understudied, except in terms of population dynamics. I mean, it was only fairly recently that we figured out that cheetahs are not just running before sex to show off to their partners; they actually need to run to raise their body temperatures in order to have the zygote implant correctly, which is why zoos were having so much trouble breeding cheetahs -- the cheetahs had no place to run.

And this was, mind you, after years of observing cheetahs. The plain fact is that we don't know much.
Feb. 18th, 2006 12:46 am (UTC)
"at least some of the Internet stuff probably comes from a book entitled Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (2000), a book I haven't read, but which apparently discusses both bats and the reluctance of scientists to study homosexual behavior"

I have read it and own it. The word "bat" is listed five times in the index. The first three mentions are of heterosexuality in bats. The fourth mention is of a Zuni (Native American) creation myth which says that "the first two-spirits - creatures that were neither mae nor female, yet voth at the same time - were the twelve offspring of a mythical brother-sister pair. Some of these creatures were human, but one was a bat and another an old buck Deer."

The fifth and final mention is in a chart titled "Some Correspondences Between Indeigenous Beliefs and Western Scientific Observations of Animal Homosexuality/Transgender (TG)." The entry for "bat" in this chart is as follows:

Animal Traditionally Associated with Homosexuality/TG: bat species (Zuni [creation myth])
Homosexuality/TG Reported in Scientific Literature: no
Homosexuality/TG Observed in Related Species: yes (Little Brown Bat, other Bats)

No sources whatsoever are cited. Also, no specific bat species is named as having been the particular bat of the Zuni creation myth, so I am perplexed as to how the answer can be "no" for bats in general but "yes" for Little Brown Bats and "other Bats"; I can only suppose that the observations of bat homosexuality did not qualify as being reported in scientific literature.
Feb. 18th, 2006 12:51 am (UTC)
. . . Wait! I found much more information now, under "Little Brown Bat." Hold on while I read it.
Feb. 18th, 2006 01:21 am (UTC)
"Gray-headed Flying Foxes of both sexes engage in a form of mutual grooming and caressing when they are in their separate camps. One animal wraps its wings around another of the same sex in an embrace, licking and gently biting the chest and wings of its partner, rubbing its head on the other's chest, and grooming it with its claws. Males may have an erection while they do this, and individuals generally utter a continuous pulsed, grating call while engaged in this activity. Livingstone's Fruit Bats participate in similar forms of grooming and other homosexual activities. Combined with bouts of intense body licking - either mutual or one-sided - both males and females in this species sometimes lick, nuzzle, and sniff the genitals of a same-sex partner (one male was even seen to drink another's urine as part of this activity). Clasping, play-wrestling, and gentle mouthing or biting of the partner occur as well. This may lead to homosexual mounting, in which one Bat grips the other from behind, holding the scruff of its neck in its mouth (as in heterosexual mating, although males do not usually experience erections or penetration during same-sex activity). Females sometimes mount their adult daughters and vice versa. In one instance, a daughter repeatedly approached, pursued, and mounted her mother for extended periods, and even successfully fought off males who were interested in mating with her mother.

"Male Vampire Bats also participate in sexual grooming and licking of one another. Two males hang belly to belly, each with an erect penis. One male then works his tongue over the entire body of the other male, paying particular attention to licking the other male's genitals. Sometimes one male will masturbate himself while licking his partner, using his free foot to rub his own penis. Although overt sexual behavior has not been observed among female Vampire Bats, females do form long-lasting bonds with one another. Companions share the same roost, groom one another, huddle together, and go foraging with each other. another important aspect of these female companionships is blood-sharing: one female feeds the other by "donating" or regurgitating blood for her to consume (males also occasionally engage in reciprocal blood-sharing). Associations like these can last for five to ten years or more, and sometimes females bond with several different female companions simultaneously.

"Frequency: Overt sexual behavior among Gray-headed Flying Foxes and Vampire Bats probably occurs only occasionally (and is more common in male Flying Foxes than in females), but various same-sex activities occur regularly in Livingstone's Fruit Bats (in captivity). In Vampire Vats, between one-half and three-quarters of all companionships or close associations are between females.

"Orientation: Little is known of the individual life histories of these Bats, and so it is difficult to draw any definitive conclusions regarding the orientation of their sexual behavior. Nevertheless, it is likely that many Gray-headed Flying Foxes are seasonally bisexual, since they participate in homosexual activities when they are in their sex-segregated camps during the nonbreeding season. [Breeding season is March through April.] Among Vampire Bats in captivity, some males seem to show what amounts to a preference for homosexual activity, since they bypass females in order to interact sexually with another male (although it is not known whether this 'preference' is temporary or long-lasting). Livingstone's Fruit Bats may be simultaneously bisexual, able to alternate between same-sex and opposite-sex activities in a relatively short span of time. . . ."
Feb. 18th, 2006 01:29 am (UTC)
"Other Species: Male Serotine Bats (Eptesicus serotinus), a Eurasian species, have been observed making sexual advances toward other males in captivity. While suspended upside down, one male approaches another with his penis erect and mounts him from behind, grasping him above the neck and thrusting his penis between the other male's legs (under the membrane that stretches between his limbs). Homosexual activity in several species of British Bats is also common among wild males during the spring and summer (i.e., outside of breeding season). These include Noctules (Nyctalus noctula), Common Pipistrelles (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), Brown Long-eared Bats (Plecotus auritus), Daubenton's Bats (Myotis daubentonii), and Natterer's Bats (Myotis nattereri) (including interspecies encounters between the latter two). Among wild Little Brown Bats (Myotis lucifugus) in North America, males often mount other males (as well as females) during the late fall, when many of the mounted individuals are semitorpid. These same-sex copulations usually include ejaculation, and the mounted animal often makes a squawking vocalization. Homosexual behavior also occurs in several other species of Fruit Bats: male Rodrigues Fruit Bats (Pteropus rodricensis) participate in same-sex mounting, while younger male Indian Fruit Bats (Pteropus giganteus often mount one another (with erections and thrusting) while play-wrestling."

And the sources cited are, well, a whole bunch of articles in scientific journals from around the world from 1895 through 1996.

And now, I think you've had more than your share of bat porn for today.
Feb. 18th, 2006 04:34 pm (UTC)
Some would say that you could never have enough bat porn. I am not one of them.

But thanks! This was fun stuff to read, and now I have plenty of factoids to throw out about gay bats, and you never know when that might be needed.
Feb. 18th, 2006 02:18 am (UTC)
Okaaaay then.

But learning is fun! And Strange.
Jan. 3rd, 2013 06:13 am (UTC)
So much love for all that this post is, seriously. Thanks for tracking down all the fun info! :D
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


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