The Covid-19 pandemic has introduced us to phrases such as ‘containment’, ‘isolation’ and ‘social distancing’ which have become part of social conduct around the world. It now appears that bats also maintain a social distancing which could help prevent the spread of contagious diseases in their colonies.
In a new study published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Tel Aviv University researchers show that sick bats, like sick humans, prefer to stay away from their communities, possibly to recover, and possibly to protect others as well. The study was conducted by postdoctoral researcher Dr Kelsey Moreno and doctoral candidate Maya Weinberg in the laboratory of Professor Yossi Yovel, director of the Sagol School of Neuroscience and researcher at the School of Zoology at the George S. wise Faculty of Life Sciences.
The study followed two colonies of Egyptian fruit bats – one living in an enclosure and the other in its natural environment. To examine the behavior of bats when they fall ill, the researchers injected several bats from each group with a bacteria-like protein, thus stimulating their immune response without causing any real danger to the bats. The tests revealed symptoms such as high fever, fatigue and weight loss, and the “sick” behavior of the bats was tracked by GPS.
The researchers found that the “sick” bats chose to stay away from the colony. In the first group, they left the group of bats on their own and kept their distance. In the second group, the “sick” bats also wandered away from other bats in the colony, also remained in the colony and did not go out in search of food for two successive nights.
Research student Maya Weinberg explains that this social distancing behavior is likely caused by the need to conserve energy – avoiding energy-consuming social interactions in the group. Weinberg points out, however, that this behavior can also protect the group and prevent the pathogen from spreading within the colony. In addition, the fact that sick bats do not leave the cave, prevents the disease from spreading to other colonies. “The choice of bats to stay away from the group is very unusual for these animals. Normally, these bats are extremely social creatures, living in caves under very crowded conditions,” Weinberg explains. “In fact, the behavior of ‘sick’ bats is very similar to ours when recovering from illness. Just as we prefer to stay home quietly under the blanket when we are sick, sick bats, living in caves, loneliness and peace while they recover. “
Prof Yovel adds that the results of the study suggest that the likelihood of bats transmitting pathogens to humans under normal conditions is very low, as sick bats tend to isolate themselves and stay in the environment. Cave. “We observed that during illness, bats choose to stay away from the colony and not leave the cave, thus avoiding mixing with other bats. This suggests that to encounter a sick bats, people actually have to invade the bats’ natural environment or eliminate their habitats, in other words, if we protect them, they will protect us too.
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