Bat-ting the Distance

Vampire bat with device attached to its back

Down with a cold? Don’t worry, stay batty!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Feeling under the weather? Nothing beats curling up in bed! Hanging out with friends can wait — we don’t want them getting sick too! But what do OTHER social animals do when they’ve got a bug?

Enter Simon Ripperger from Ohio State University. He and his colleagues looked for an answer – in the BAT-CAVE!

The scientists followed thirty-one wild female vampire bats from the same colony. Sixteen lady bats were given injections to make them FEEL sick without actually BEING sick. The rest were given a simple saline shot. Each was tagged with a sensor to monitor their behavior for three days.

Results? Bats who felt unwell kept others at wing’s-length while hanging at home! Sick-ish bats saw four fewer housemates compared to healthy bats. If they did interact, it was for twenty-five minutes shorter.

Studies like this can help us understand disease spread in wild animals!

And, once recovered, bats no longer left their friends HANGING!

Ripperger, S. P., Stockmaier, S., &Carter, G.C. (2020). Tracking sickness effects on social encounters via continuous proximity sensing in wild Vampire Bats.” Behavioral Ecology.