A team of (confused? ambitious?) entomologists lead by Min Tan of China’s Guangdong Entomological Institute have just published a paper in PLoS One detailing for the first time the unusual sexual habits of the short-nosed fruit bat, Cynopterus sphinx. Observing thirty pairs of males and females for a month in Guangzhou City, they believe to have found the only known case of frequently performed oral sex in a species other than humans.
Hiding in roosts made from Chinese fan-palm leaves bitten into a tent-like shape, one sexually active male C. sphinx typically keeps the company of several females, their polygamy not only important for reproduction, but also for the defense of resources. When ready to mate with a willing female, the pair will sniff and lick each other before the male grabs hold of the female with his thumbs, shifting himself onto her back to settle into the optimum copulatory posture. Keeping a firm grip on the female by holding her wings tightly in place with his thumbs and the scuff of her neck in his mouth, the pair will mate, the female frequently lowering her head to lick the any part of the penis that has not already penetrated her, ie the shaft or the base, to better facilitate thrusting and intromission. Speculating that this behaviour encourages penile stimulation, stiffening, and erection maintenance, Tan’s team reported that the males were never seen to withdraw from the female while this was taking place. What they did find is for every instance that fellatio was part of the mating process, the duration of copulation was significantly extended – specifically, for every one second of fellatio, there were approximately six extra seconds of copulation.
Suggesting that this behaviour held several adaptive benefits for the C. sphinx species as a whole, Tan puts forward four hypotheses in regards to the short-nosed fruit bat’s penchant for genital licking. The first and second relate to lubrication and penile stimulation, both of which serve to prolong copulation which can be a method of mate-guarding, and can also assist the transmission of sperm and thus chance of fertilisation. The third relates to the possible prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) between both the males and the females, bat saliva boasting such defenses as antibacterial, antifungal, antichlamydial, and antiviral properties. The final hypotheses relates to the chemically-regulated choice of mate. Hence, Tan believes that the purpose of fellatio as a significant part of the the C. sphinx reproductive process is to primarily increase the chance of fertilisation, but also suggests that it could possibly help to reduce the spread of STDs.
Alright, Short-Nosed Fruit Bats. I gave your lot the benefit of the doubt that time your Aellen’s long-fingered friends got caught doing sexual things to each other by a bunch of scientists, because it sort of seemed like they’d stumbled in on an intimate moment, the mortified bats like, “Umm, sorry, but would you guys mind not photographing us while our genitals are out? Thanks.” So I was like, “Yeah that seems pretty reasonable. At least they’re not making orgies in public like those giant trilobites did just for kicks and attention. God.” Plus I even paid you guys the courtesy of not mentioning your sordid harem-loving ways before because it isn’t really your fault that we like to snoop around your love dens/treetops uninvited.
But then you had to go and leak a sex tape starring yourselves, fellatio, and an inexplicably bad soundtrack and, well, it’s all a bit much, Short-Nosed Fruit Bats. You can claim that this is the first you’ve seen of the clip and that you didn’t even know you were being filmed at all, but considering your questionable behaviour in the past, I find that somewhat difficult to believe. And here’s the thing – you might very well enjoy hearing a handful of naturalists wax lyrical about your sexual prowess, suggeting that bat sex could quite possibly be the best sex ever,* but there are a few things your publicist might have accidentally-on-purpose neglected to tell you about sex tape leakage. Sure, it gets your name out there – that’s kind of their job – but just because people suddenly know who you are, my naive chiropterans, it doesn’t mean they’ll actually like you.
It’ll start out with the little things, like when you try to buy a few bananas because you’re both hungry and a fruit bat, the sarcastic gum-chewing checkout girl will be like, “What are these for, then? Practice?” to a chorus of self-righteous snickers from the housewives queued behind you. You’ll get fully embarrassed and mumble something about just wanting to eat them because you’re kind of hungry, but the sarcastic checkout girl will just make a face at you because, like everybody, she knows how to use Youtube, and was pretty grossed out by your performance. You’ll be asked to leave the premises because they think there’s a good chance you might start performing oral sex on their products as per your reputation, and the queue of self-righteous housewives will call you a ‘sicko’ whilst taking a collective step forward with their deliberately non-phallic groceries. Hungry and humiliated, you’ll tell yourself that any publicity is good publicity. Right?
But pretty soon you’ll start to notice it affecting your work too. You’ll turn up to audition after audition and won’t even make it through your very serious audition piece before the casting director will stop you, flick through your headshots briefly and be all, “So I’m assuming you don’t have a problem with nudity then?” You’ll open your little bat mouth to say something indignant, reconsider, then give him a dumbfounded frown instead as he tells you he’ll be in touch. Eighteen months of nothing but “Drunk Party Girl # 2” offers and it’ll probably occur to you that you’ve been typecast by the only work anyone can actually remember you being in. Then one day your agent will be like, “So how would you like to play a beat-down broken prostitute with a heart of gold in some new edgy indie film?” and you’ll launch down from your sulky palm-leaf roost, flap around furiously for a minute, then announce loudly, “OH MY GOD, I can do other things!”
“Oh, you mean anal? Fantastic! I’ll call the studio.”
Sorry, Short-Nosed Fruit Bats, but you brought this on yourselves.
* Besides human sex, obviously, because we get nice things like tea/email breaks.