Study Finds That Vampire Bats Socially Distance When They Are Ill
In order to achieve this remarkable and slightly bizarre piece of research, the team of scientists from the United States injected various bats with endotoxins which stimulate an immune response and then attacked proximity sensors to them before using them to record the animals' movements.
They found that the sick bats didn't associate with as many mates from within their group, spent less time in general with other bats, and were less socially connected to those within their group that were healthy.
They claim that this observed social distancing in animals doesn't require any co-operation with the other animals and is - they reckon - common across the natural world.
The paper, which was published in the journal Behavioural Ecology, said: "When animals are sick, they often encounter fewer individuals,
"We tracked this unintentional "social distancing" effect hour-by-hour in a wild colony of vampire bats.
"As tracking technology improves the capacity to create dynamic animal social networks from large, high-resolution datasets, we expect researchers to gain new insights into the patterns and processes underlying the spread of pathogens, information, or behavioural states."
The study used 31 adult female vampire bats that were captured from a hollow tree in Belize in Central America.
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Just over half the bats were injected with endotoxins to make them sick, whereas the other half received only harmless saline injections.
They were then fitted up with the proximity sensors and sent off on their way with the watchful eyes of the researchers now glued to them.
Lead author Simon Ripperger of Ohio State University 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 study, without going too far into the exact data, revealed that those who were injected with the immune-challenging substance slept more, moved less, but - crucially - engaged in significantly less interactions with other bats, and even called for them less.
The scientists concluded: "In this field experiment, we showed that these effects of sickness behaviour extend to proximity-based association durations and social network connectivity in the natural environment,
"Sickness behaviour can therefore slow the spread of a pathogen that is transmitted at higher probability with higher rates of physical contact (e.g., grooming) or closer proximity."
Featured Image Credit: PA
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