It Turns out Vampire Bats Practice Social Distancing Too

New research has found that sick bats practice and receive less grooming.
Loukia Papadopoulos

With COVID-19 spreading around the world, social distancing has become key, and it turns out we are not the only species to do it. New research from the University of Texas reveals that vampire bats also partake in the practice, as reported by Massive Science.


Social beings

Bats live in colonies of hundreds to thousands and often socialize as part of their survival strategy. Most notably, they practice reciprocal grooming and food sharing.

The University of Texas researchers wanted to examine how these social behaviors would be  affected if the bats got sick. They monitored a small captive bat colony at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and examined what happened when they made some of the bats sick.

They injected bacteria in a few of the bats that lowered their energy for activities and then waited to see how the other healthy bats responded to them.  What they found is that sick bats continued to socialize with the healthy ones, but did so less often.

Less grooming

The social bonding was exhibited through their grooming habits. Sick bats groomed healthy bats less often, so the other bats also returned the favor less often.

When it came to food sharing, the sick bats begged for food from the healthy ones by licking their mouths. In this case, the healthy bats did respond and fed the sick ones.

In essence, the only notable change was in the amount of grooming taking place, indicating that the bats' families did not give up on them when they were sick. They simply practiced less grooming, which is a form of social distancing.

This is quite similar to the way humans have been practicing social distancing. “If you think of it like social distancing – it’s not like you’re totally self-isolated. You’re probably with your family and still interacting in some way," said Sebastian Stockmaier, a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas.

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