Vampire Bats Practise Social Distancing When They’re Sick

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Vampire Bats Practise Social Distancing When They're SickPA Images/Oasalehm/Wikimedia

Turns out we’re not the only ones to practise social distancing when we’re sick – vampire bats do it too. 

While the term ‘social distancing’ is relatively new to us humans (but now permanently ingrained into our brains), it seems that vampire bats were probably doing it way before we did.


Researchers at the University of Texas studied the animal’s social behaviours, and how this was affected when the bats became ill.

Like us, they’re very sociable creatures and rely heavily on interacting with each other to survive, however they will distance themselves from other healthy individuals if they become unwell.


The telltale sign for the bats distancing themselves was grooming. While the sick bats – who had been injected with bacteria by researchers – still socialised, they did so differently.


They were found to groom themselves more and received grooming from other healthy bats less frequently, as well as not grooming healthy bats themselves.

In addition to this, researchers found the bats retained their family structures, with mothers still feeding their children, whether they were sick or not. Despite the sick bats socialising less in general, they still continued to with close family members.

Sebastian Stockmaier, a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas spoke about the study, which was published in The Journal of Animal Ecology.


He explained: ‘If you think of it like social distancing – it’s not like you’re totally self-isolated. You’re probably with your family and still interacting in some way.’

Turns out we’re a lot more like bats than we thought. However, before vampire bats take all the glory, they’re not the only animal species to do it.

According to The Conversation, monkeys, lobsters, insects and birds are known to do it as well, as it arguably increases the species’ – and the individual animals’ – chance of survival.


Ants, for example, live in close proximity to one another like humans do, and they have been known to self-isolate when sick to prevent the spread of the disease. Healthy ants also go out of their way to protect vulnerable colony members by keeping them isolated from foragers.

Mandrills monkeys will distance themselves from other that are sick, but will put themselves at risk to care for an ill family member.

It seems social distancing has been around for quite a while then, and perhaps we’re just a bit late to the party.

It’s okay to not panic about everything going on in the world right now. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organization, click here.

Topics: Animals, Monkeys, Social Distancing


The Conversation and 2 others
  1. The Conversation

    Social distancing works – just ask lobsters, ants and vampire bats

  2. Massive Science

    Even vampire bats do social distancing when their friends are sick

  3. Interesting Engineering

    It Turns out Vampire Bats Practice Social Distancing Too

Niamh Shackleton
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