What did one bat say to another?
Let’s hang around together... but not if you’re sick!
People have gotten used to spreading out this year. They’ve stayed apart to slow the spread of the coronavirus. This is called social distancing. And scientists just discovered that sick vampire bats do it too!
Simon Ripperger led the study in Lamanai, Belize. He has studied bats a lot in the past, and he has a message for anyone who thinks bats are frightful flyers. “Bats are not scary!” he told News-O-Matic. “They are super-interesting animals.” Ripperger and his team already knew that sickness led to fewer social interactions in the bats, but they wanted to make sure this was true in the wild. The experts released a report about this on Tuesday.
Ripperger and his team caught 31 female vampire bats from inside a hollow tree. The experts made half of the bats “sick” by giving them a drug that affected their immune systems. The shot didn’t actually give the bats a disease — it just made them feel sick. The team gave the other bats a shot that did not affect them at all.
Then, the scientists put trackers onto the bats’ backs and released the animals. The researchers tracked the bats’ movements for three days. They noticed that the “sick” bats spent time with fewer groupmates. And “sick” bats especially stayed away from those that were healthy.
Usually, vampire bats are very social. “They groom each other,” Ripperger said. “They even share their meals!” However, if one is sick, it becomes antisocial, which means it spends less time with other bats. And it’s less likely to pass a disease along.
Ripperger said we can learn from these bats. Just as a disease goes from bat to bat, the coronavirus moves from person to person. “How we behave influences how a disease transmits,” the expert said. “Therefore, understanding social behavior is vital for understanding how infectious diseases work.”
Ripperger thinks bats are important, but he doesn’t think you should try to catch one yourself. “Bats are often tiny, but they are still wild animals,” the expert shared. He said you shouldn’t pick up a bat if you find one. Bats can carry diseases such as the coronavirus or rabies. So, like a sick vampire bat, it is probably best to keep your distance!
Updated October 29, 2020, 5:03 P.M. (ET)
By Alexa Tirapelli
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