What makes the sex lives of our native species so special?
New Zealand is home to a wide variety of wildlife, but our only native land mammals are bats. Initially, there were three species, but now we are down to just two – the long-tailed bat, and the lesser short-tailed bat.
Last month, researchers from the University of Auckland published the results of more than three years of study on New Zealand’s lesser short-tailed bat, the Mystacina tuberculata. This tiny bat is only 5-6cm long (about the size of the average thumb), has a wingspan of about 30cm, and is classified as one of our endangered species.
The purpose of the study was to better understand the mating rituals of these little bats. And after three years of observation of the lesser short-tailed bats in the remote forest area of Pureora in the North Island, the scientists found that their sex lives are really quite odd.
As it turns out, the Mystacina tuberculata are ‘lek’ breeders, a term that comes from the Swedish word for ‘play’. It means that the males of the species competitively display themselves to females to attract a mate, a behaviour that is only seen in one other bat species in the world.
But the antics don’t stop there. First, the males would take up a spot in a tree cavity close to where the females were. Once there, the males move about as if they are stretching, and ‘sing’ to attract attention. For a special scent, the males also douse themselves with their own urine.
One of the most bizarre habits, however, that the researchers found, was that once a successful male had attracted a mate, he would leave his spot in the tree and another male would move in and start the same process over again.
For an entertaining clip on this process, check out this video from University of Auckland research Cory Toth here.
The research on New Zealand’s special native mammals continues, as they have a particularly important role as pollinators and seed dispersers in our forest areas.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist