Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 63, Issue 12, pp 1693–1703 | Cite as

Pup guarding by greater spear-nosed bats

  • Kirsten M. BohnEmail author
  • Cynthia F. Moss
  • Gerald S. Wilkinson
Original Paper


Alloparental care poses an evolutionary dilemma because effort is expended on non-filial offspring. Thus, instances of alloparental care have been attributed to either mistaken identity, (i.e., recognition errors) or active cooperation. In greater spear-nosed bats (Phyllostomus hastatus), reproductive females roost together in stable long-term social groups in cave ceilings. Non-volant pups frequently fall from roost sites to the cave floor where they can die unless retrieved by an adult. In this study, we examined the function of adult female visits to non-filial young and tested whether visits were attributable to recognition errors or to cooperation. We found that females visited non-filial pups from their own social group more than expected. Females from different social groups attacked and sometimes killed pups, and male pups were attacked more frequently than female pups. Visits by group mates benefited fallen pups by reducing the likelihood of attack by females from other groups. In contrast to the mistaken identity hypothesis, we found that some females leave their own pups to approach and remain with group mates’ pups. We used microsatellite markers to estimate relatedness and test whether kinship could explain this alloparental care and found that females were unrelated to the pups they guard. We conclude that females who reside in highly stable social groups exhibit cooperative behavior that cannot be explained by kinship and is unlikely to be due to direct or generalized reciprocity. Instead, our data suggest that alloparental care likely involves a complex interplay between group membership and cooperative foraging.


Cooperation Bat Parental care Infanticide 



The University of Maryland Animal Care and Use Committee approved all procedures in this research. This research was funded by an NSF doctoral dissertation grant, an Animal Behavior Society student research grant and an NIMH Institutional NRSA in Neuroethology awarded to K. M. Bohn. We thank Katrina Smith, Jason Munshi-South and Tameeka Williams for assistance in the field and Frans de Waal and Michael Taborsky for comments that helped to improve this paper.

Supplementary material

265_2009_776_Fig4_ESM.jpg (423 kb)
Fig. S1

A P. hastatus social group (reproductive females and their pups) in the ceiling of Guanapo Cave. (JPEG 422 kb)

265_2009_776_Fig5_ESM.jpg (301 kb)
Fig. S2

A pup crËche from one social group in the ceiling of Guanapo Cave. Photograph was taken while adults were out foraging. (JPEG 301 kb)

265_2009_776_Fig6_ESM.jpg (187 kb)
Fig. S3

An adult female inspecting a pup that has fallen to the cave floor. (JPEG 187 kb)

Video S1

Retrieval A group mate visits a fallen pup and then the mother of the pup comes to retrieve the pup. Movie shot with infrared video. Pup is on wall of Guanapo cave. (MOV 2.40 mb)

Video S2

Capture An adult captures a fallen pup. Movie shot with infrared video. Pup is on wall of Guanapo cave. (MOV 3.47 mb)

Video S3

Aggression This video shows an adult biting a pup and then being attacked by other adults. Movie shot with infrared video. Pup is on wall of Guanapo cave. (MOV 6.21 mb)

Video S4

Isolation Calls A fallen pup produces isolation call that attracts multiple females. Audio and video are slowed 8X. (AVI 4.96 mb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kirsten M. Bohn
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Cynthia F. Moss
    • 2
  • Gerald S. Wilkinson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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