If you feel you’ve been unfairly victimized for being asked to mask up while dating in the pandemic, spare a thought for this wrinkly bat. The first-ever behavioral observation study observing wrinkle-faced bats in situ, published in the journal PLOS One, has revealed an unusual courtship ritual. The males have an inbuilt face mask made of excess skin that they lower just before mating.
An elusive species, Centurio senex is found in Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. Their characteristic scrunched-up faces are the result of skin folds and flaps on their faces. The males have an additional skin fold on the face, which is absent in females, beneath which sits a scent gland. They’ve something of a mixed-up identity as despite sitting within the "leaf-nosed" bat family, they don’t have a leaf nose. They also eat a lot of fruit despite not being fruit bats.
As seen in birds, seals, and some hoofed mammals, they use a lek to perform mating rituals, which see the females select mates from clusters of competing males. Once a suitor has been chosen, the male beats its wings and emits a loud, low-frequency whistle that presumably is a toast to its own success. Then, just as the magic moment arrives, he flips down his skin-flap mask and begins mating. Once the romantic encounter is over, the males sing enthusiastically before masking up again. I imagine similar encounters have been playing out between separate household couples across the globe all year.
This new study marks the first time observations have been made regarding the echolocation and mating behavior of C. senex. The authors’ findings followed an analysis of synchronized audio and video recordings from a group of males across 53 perches in Costa Rica over a period of six weeks. They hope that future encounters with C. senex may finally close existing gaps in the record regarding one of the most iconic bats of the Neotropics, though they’ll never fully strip these masked romantics of their air of mystery.