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Vampire Bats Socially Distance When They’re Sick, Study Finds

by : Emma Rosemurgey on : 27 Oct 2020 08:27
Vampire Bats Socially Distance When They're Sick, Study FindsVampire Bats Socially Distance When They're Sick, Study FindsWikimedia/PA

While this year has been a learning curve for everyone in terms of socially distancing and everything else that comes with a pandemic, it turns out we’re not the only species to instinctively keep our distance.

A new study, published in Behavioural Ecology, has revealed that wild vampire bats also socially distance when they’re sick – although they probably don’t face fines if they do end up mixing with bats from other households.

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The study consisted of 31 female vampire bats who all live in a hollow tree in Lamanai, Belize. Scientists gave half of the bats an immune-challenging substance to make them poorly, while the other half simply received saline injections.

Vampire Bats Socially Distance When They're Sick, Study FindsVampire Bats Socially Distance When They're Sick, Study FindsWikimedia Commons

The bats were then fitted with proximity sensors so scientists could track their movements and would be able to tell how close they were to one another, once they were set free and able to go back into their tree in the coming days.

Over time, the team noticed that the 16 poorly bats were spending significantly less time with the other 15 control bats and were overall less connected with them.

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Researchers Simon Ripperger, Sebastian Stockmaier and Gerald Carter wrote in the study:

This sickness-induced ‘social distancing’ can be important for modelling pathogen transmission as a social network changes over time.

In the six hours following the injections, the experts noted that the sick bats associated with an average of four fewer associates than the healthy bats. However, these changes were less noticeable when the bats were out of their tree and foraging outside, or when they were sleeping.

Vampire Bats Socially Distance When They're Sick, Study FindsVampire Bats Socially Distance When They're Sick, Study FindsWikimedia Commons
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Putting the data together, the scientists worked out that a control bat – injected with the saline – was on average 49% likely to associate with another control bat, while having just a 35% chance of associating with one of the sick bats.

Simon Ripperger, from the department of ecology, evolution, and organismal biology, at the Ohio State University, who led the study, said:

The sensors gave us an amazing new window into how the social behaviour of these bats changed from hour to hour and even minute to minute during the course of the day and night, even while they are hidden in the darkness of a hollow tree.

We’ve gone from collecting data every day to every few seconds.

The effects are said to have declined over 48 years.

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Emma Rosemurgey

Emma Rosemurgey is an NCTJ trained Journalist who started her career by producing The Royal Rosemurgey newspaper in 2004, which kept her family up to date with the goings on of her sleepy north east village. She graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and started her career in regional newspapers before joining Tyla (formerly Pretty 52) in 2017, and progressing onto UNILAD in 2019.

Topics: Animals, Now, Social Distancing

Credits

Behavioural Ecology
  1. Behavioural Ecology

    Sickness behaviour reduces network centrality in wild vampire bats