Scientists Discover Unusual Behavior of Bats: They Socially Distance Just Like Humans

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Many people claim that bats are responsible for COVID-19, the viral disease that cause the ongoing pandemic. However, it might be that these flying mammals are also afraid of the infection.

Bats Are Isolating Themselves When Sick? Scientists Claim the Isolation is Voluntary or Forced

(Photo : Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Young grey headed "flying fox" bats hang with a teddy bear to cuddle on January 27, 2020 in Bomaderry, Australia. The Shoalhaven Bat Clinic and Sanctuary has received a large number of bats during this bushfire season. The center rescues injured bats, rehabs them and releases them back into the wild. Many, such as these, arrived to the center as orphans.

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Researchers claim that bats tend to isolate themselves when they are sick. The new study suggests that the behavior can either be voluntary or forced by other group members.

The Independent UK reports that the animals were previously observed in a lab, but it was the first time the unique activity was documented. The newly discovered behavior can alter how a pathogen spreads across a population.

It can also decrease transmission rates since the healthy animals can avoid the infected ones. The action can also be seen among social insects.

The unhealthy critters are excluded, or they self isolate. Insects and bats are not the only ones who are doing this action. There are also other species of animals that exhibit changes in behavior when they fall ill.

Bats new behavior

Phys Org reported that Oxford University Press published the new study wherein researchers captured 31 adult female vampire bats inside a hollow tree located in Lamanai, Belize.

Bats Are Isolating Themselves When Sick? Scientists Claim the Isolation is Voluntary or Forced

(Photo : Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
two month old Grey-Headed Flying Fox is bottle fed during a tour of the Taronga Zoo's Wildlife Hospital at Taronga Zoo on January 14, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. The Federal Government has granted $1 million to support ongoing efforts to help conservation-based zoos like Taronga care for injured and displaced wildlife in the wake of the ongoing bushfire crisis in Australia. $1 million each will also be given to Zoos Vic and Zoos SA to support similar programs in those states affected by the devastation of recent bushfires.

They injected half of the bats, randomly, with the immune-challenging substance called "lipopolysaccharide." After the next three days, the scientists put proximity sensors on the bats and released them back into the hollow tree.

After they were sent back to the wild, they tracked the infected backs. They found out that the sick bats associated with fewer groupmates and spent less time with the other flying mammals.

The bat study's results

After conducting the study, the researchers discovered that a healthy bat or "control bat" had a 49% chance of associating with another healthy one. On the other hand, a control bat had, on average, a 35% chance of associating with an infected member.

"The sensors gave us an amazing new window into how the social behavior 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," said Simon Ripperger, the study's lead author.

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Written by: Giuliano de Leon.

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