Research Shows That Vampire Bats Socially Distance Themselves When Sick

Research Shows That Vampire Bats Socially Distance Themselves When Sick

Researchers from Ohio State University have shown that vampire bats socially distance themselves from group mates when they feel sick.

A paper outlining the data and observation appeared recently in the Behavioral Ecology journal. Simon Ripperger and Gerald G Carter from Ohio State University are the co-lead authors of the paper.

The team activated the immune system of vampire bats artificially and made them feel sick for several hours. Researchers then sent the bats to their settlements with a data trasmitting device on their back. The device constantly monitored the social encounters of the vampire bats.

A control group of bats recieved a placebo i.e they were just picked for observation and their immune system was not really activated.

Compared to the control group, sick bats were overall less interactive with individuals that were well-connected with others in the roost.

It was also observed that healthy bats didn’t associate normally sick bat.

“Social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, when we feel fine, doesn’t feel particularly normal. But when we’re sick, it’s common to withdraw a bit and stay in bed longer because we’re exhausted. And that means we’re likely to have fewer social encounters,” said Simon Ripperger.

“That’s the same thing we were observing in this study: In the wild, vampire bats — which are highly social animals — keep their distance when they’re sick or living with sick groupmates. And it can be expected that they reduce the spread of disease as a result.”

For this interesting study, the team picked 31 female common vampire bats living inside a hollow tree in Lamanai, Belize. They injected 16 bats with the molecule that activated the immune system and 15 with saline, a placebo, which constituted the control group.

Journal Reference:
Simon P Ripperger, Sebastian Stockmaier, Gerald G Carter. Tracking sickness effects on social encounters via continuous proximity sensing in wild vampire bats. Behavioral Ecology, Oct. 27, 2020; DOI: 10.1093/beheco/araa111

Press Release: Ohio State University

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