Vampire bats naturally 'socially distance' when they are ill

It turns out we may not be the only species in the animal kingdom making sure to adhere to social distancing, with a new study showing that vampire bats adopt similar behaviour when ill.

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The new study saw dozens of bats injected with a substance that mimics the symptoms of a bacterial infection, while others received saline injections and were put into a control group.

Tagged with sensors, the bats’ movements were tracked over several days. Results revealed that those who were ill spent less time with the healthy animals.

Sickness-induced social distancing

Published in Behavioral Ecology, the study found that a control bat had a 35 per cent chance of associating with a sick bat, compared to a 49 per cent chance of associating with a healthy one.

The effects varied by time of day and declined over 48 hours.

Researchers Simon Ripperger, Sebastian Stockmaier and Gerald Carter 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.

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