Social distancing is so easy, even a bat can do it.
When injected with a drug that made their immune systems weaker, the creatures managed to have fewer interactions with their healthier friends, the study found.
Earlier findings by researchers at the University of Texas and Ohio State University have already looked into some of this behavior in bats. And it was previously known that unhealthy individuals in some insect societies will self-isolate or be excluded from the colony. Plus, sick animals, like people, are less active when they’re sick anyway.
Still, scientists chose to replicate this test in a field study to confirm their results in the wild — in Belize, in this case. There, researchers captured a group of 31 adult female vampire bats from a hollowed-out tree and injected 16 with lipopolysaccharide, an immune system suppressant, and the others with a placebo. Then, they glued sensors to the bats and placed them back in their treehouse.
“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,” said lead author Simon Ripperger, a post doctoral researcher at Ohio State. In a statement for Oxford University Press, he said, “We’ve gone from collecting data every day to every few seconds.”
As expected, “sick” bats had fewer interactions with tree mates than their heathy, “control” counterparts. During the six-hour tracking period, the sick bats had an average of four fewer associations than the control bats who didn’t receive injections and spent 25 fewer minutes socializing. Overall, the control bats showed a 49% likelihood of mingling with another during the period, while sick bats had a 35% chance of bumping up against their peers.
The difference was marginal, however, when it came to working together to forage for food, and, not surprisingly, during sleep.
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