Social distancing is used among bats to prevent epidemics

During the coronavirus pandemic, we are all familiar with the social distancing that has been mandated by local, state, and federal governments. Humans aren't the only creatures who isolate and use social distancing to help prevent an outbreak. A new study found that bats maintain social distancing when the spread of contagious diseases is a potential issue.

The new study found that sick bats prefer to stay away from their communities, likely as a means for recovery and possibly as a measure to protect other bats in the community. The study monitored two colonies of Egyptian fruit bats. One of the colonies lived in an enclosure, and the other was in the natural environment.

To examine the behavior of the bats when they are ill, researchers injected several bats in each group with a bacteria-like protein stimulating their immune response without generating any illness in the bat. Tests revealed symptoms like high fever, fatigue, and weight loss. Bats that were injected with the protein were tracked via GPS.

Researchers found that the "sick" bats chose to keep away from the colony. In the first group, ill bats left the cluster on their own and kept their distance. In the second group, the sick bats moved away from the other bats in the colony and stayed inside without going out to search for food over to successive nights. Researcher Maya Weinberg says the social distancing behavior is likely caused by the need to conserve energy.

Distancing allows the bats to avoid energy-consuming social interactions within the group. By not leaving the cave, the sick bats prevent the illness from spreading to other colonies. Researchers also note that sick bats staying away from the colony is unusual behavior as they are typically highly social creatures.