National Geographic

You’ve Seen Fruit Bat Fellatio. Now: Fruit Bat Cunnilingus

Oral sex in fruit bats is clearly a hot area of research. In just four years, the number of papers on this topic has doubled from, er, one to two.

It started in 2009, with a study that described regular fellatio among the short-nosed fruit bat. It earned its authors an  Ignobel Prize in 2010. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time:

The short-nosed fruit bat’s (Cynopterus sphinx) sexual antics have only just been recorded by Min Tan of China’s Guangdong Entomological Institute (who are either branching out, or are confused about entomology). Tan captured 60 wild bats from a nearby park, housed them in pairs of the opposite sex and voyeuristically filmed their liaisons using a night-time camera. Twenty of the bats got busy, and their exploits were all caught on video.

Male bats create tents by biting leaves until they fall into shape. These provide shelter and double as harems, each housing several females who the male mates with. Fruit bat sex goes like this: the female approaches and sniffs the male, and both partners start to lick one another. The male makes approaches with his thumbs (like the Fonz) and mounts the female (like the Fonz). Sex itself is the typical rhythmic thrusting that we’re used to, and afterwards, the male licks his own penis for several seconds.

But Tan also found that female bat will often bend down to lick the shaft of her mate’s penis during sex itself. This behaviour happened on 70% of the videos, making it the only known example of regular fellatio in a non-human animal. It also prolonged the sexual encounter – males never withdrew their penises when they were being licked and, on average, the behaviour bought the couple an extra 100 seconds of sex over and above the usual 2 minutes. The licking itself only lasted for 20 seconds on average, so each second of it buys six extra seconds of penetration.

And here’s a video (The music! Why??!)

Now, to balance things off, a new paper describes cunnilingus among another fruit bat species—the Indian flying fox.

In the summers of 2010 and 2011, Jayabalan Maruthupandian and Ganapathy Marimuthu clocked 1,170 hours watching a colony of flying foxes near a south Indian village. They saw the bats mate 57 times, most of which involved a brief amount of penetration bracketed by longer bouts of cunnilingus. The male would fluff up his penis and sidle over to a nearby female. He craned his neck over and licked her vagina for up to a minute, mounted her for around 15 seconds, and returned to 2.5 minutes of cunnilingus.

The actual sex isn’t exactly lengthy, but as in the short-nosed fruit bat, the flying foxes prolong their liaisons with oral sex. The males bought themselves an extra 2 seconds of penetration if they spent an extra 15 seconds of cunnilingus beforehand.

And obviously, there’s a video. No music on this one.

So, why perform oral sex? That may sound like a silly question, but remember that oral sex is incredibly rare in the animal kingdom. We obviously do it, and there are anecdotal reports for bonobos (of course), orang utans and ring-tailed lemurs. But it seems that, aside from humans, fruit bats seem to be the only species that regularly practice either fellatio or cunnilingus as an actual part of sex.

So: why? There’s the obvious explanation: it makes both partners more aroused, and the extra saliva keeps everything nice and lubricated.

For the short-nosed fruit bat, Tan proposed a long list of alternatives. By prolonging sex, a fellating female could keep her partners away from competitors, disinfect her partner’s penis, or pick up chemical traces that tell her if her mate is a good match.

In the case of the Indian flying fox, Maruthupandian and Marimuthu suggest that a male could remove the sperm of past partners by licking a female’s vagina. That doesn’t explain why he would continue after having mated himself, but Maruthupandian and Marimuthu did find that he spends less time on oral sex after penetration if he spent more time on it before. This might give him the best odds of removing a competitor’s sperm but not his own. Although, as they write, “Observation at close-range is needed to find out whether the male’s tongue enters the vagina or not.”

Sure, guys. You do that.

It’s possible, probable even, that many other bats practice oral sex. A quarter of all mammals are bats, but scientists have only watched wild sex in 10 of the 1,100 or so species.  The flying foxes aside, most of these creatures roost in inaccessible nooks and crannies, and often in darkness. That makes it hard for voyeuristic scientists to get a view of their sex lives. They’re getting there, though.

Reference: Maruthupandian and Marimuthu. 2013. Cunnilingus Apparently Increases Duration of Copulation in the Indian Flying Fox, Pteropus giganteus. PLoS ONE http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0059743

 

There are 9 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. MS
    March 28, 2013

    Funny, really funny !!

  2. Linda Lombardi
    March 28, 2013

    Is is really true that oral sex is rare in animals? The book Biological Exuberance by Bruce Bagemihl says it’s documented in a bunch of primates, in elk, deer and moose, lions, cheetahs, hyenas, hedgehogs… that’s not all of them, and this would just be what’s published up to when the book was written in 1999.

  3. Richard Van Noorden
    March 28, 2013

    I couldn’t believe there would be only two papers in this fascinating research area, so I checked out which papers have cited the 2009 study on the fruit bat. But you’re right. The others aren’t about fruit bats at all.

    There’s Pruitt J.N. et al, Animal Behavior, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.01.011 . They discuss ‘pseudocopulatory posturing’ in in the comb-footed spider, Anelosimus studiosus.

    And Waterman J. M. (an, ahem, solo study): ‘The Adaptive Function of Masturbation in a Promiscuous African Ground Squirrel’ http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0013060

    Plus a paper in which scientists make mutant female mice that display ‘compulsive sexual solicitation behavior’, ‘exacerbated inverse pursuits [??] and incapacitating bites directed at the genitals of stud males’. (Zakany J and Duboule D, Current Biology 2012, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2012.06.067 ).

  4. bdbd
    March 28, 2013

    So “what is it like to be a bat?” is now slightly less mysterious.

  5. TC
    March 28, 2013

    Drosophila do it too.
    http://www.pnas.org/content/102/suppl.1/6622.full

    Also the genderblind mutation causes the males to perform the act on males
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18066061

  6. @Rob0Sullivan
    March 29, 2013

    When the bat fellatio paper was published a few years back, it led to a great deal of trouble at my University. A male staff member gave a copy of the paper to a female staff member and was subsequently accused of sexual harassment. Who knew that bat BJs could cause so much trouble.

  7. E@L
    April 2, 2013

    Eventually one bat couple will post a video on YouTube.

  8. The Bludger
    April 3, 2013

    Well I wonder what Batman and Batwoman got up to?

  9. Ken Kzak
    April 7, 2013

    “Dang, my batcondoms got left in my other utility belt! Guess it’s just bat oral for tonight.”
    Tackier humor comes to mind.
    Seriously, good article Ed, thanks.

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