Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 225–235 | Cite as

Communal nursing in the evening bat, Nycticeius humeralis

  • G. S. Wilkinson


Nursing observations over two summers involving 76 lactating female evening bats, Nycticeius humeralis, and 128 pups in an attic in northern Missouri indicate that communal nursing occurs rarely until 2 weeks before weaning during which time over 18% of nursing bouts involve nondescendant offspring. The average relatedness among female pairs nursing non-descendant offspring, based on identity-by-descent estimates using allozyme data, was 0.04 (SE=0.12). Mitochondrial DNA d-loop sequence comparisons confirm that at most only 2 of 20 female pairs nursing non-descendant offspring came from the same matriline. Thus, females do not nurse matrilineal kin preferentially despite female natal philopatry. In addition, the average degree of relatedness within a colony (r=0.01, SE =0.03) is too low to provide any indirect benefits from communal nursing. Female error alone is insufficient to explain these observations because females tended to allow female nondescendant young to nurse but excluded nondescendant males, particularly when they had all-male litters. Furthermore, communal nursing bouts did not differ in duration from parental nursing bouts and involved 31 % of all banded females and 24% of all banded pups observed nursing. Communal nursing occurred most frequently when pups began hunting on their own and when lactating females attained their lowest average pre-fed body weight. Mortality during this period was higher for male than female pups, and relative weights implicate starvation as the cause. Time-lapse video records of four families of bats in captivity showed that the number of nursing bouts was proportional to daily weight change. I propose that these results are consistent with both immediate and delayed benefits accruing to females which experience variable hunting success. If a female with extra milk reduced her weight by dumping milk prior to her next foraging trip, she could obtain an immediate energetic benefit and maintain maximum milk production. By restricting such milk donations to nondescendant females she may also increase colony size and thereby enhance her future acquisition of information about foraging and roosting sites.


Communal Nursing Female Pair Hunting Success Milk Donation Natal Philopatry 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. S. Wilkinson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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