Sick bats preferred to stay in the cave for recovery purposes and perhaps also so as not to endanger their friends with infection
Since the outbreak of the "Corona", the expressions "lockdown", isolation" and social distancing" have become part of social conduct in all countries of the world. It is believed that the corona virus that affects humans started its journey in bats.
Now it turns out that the bats also maintain social distance and thus help prevent the outbreak of infectious diseases in the flock. In a new study published in the journal Annals of the New York Academy of Science, researchers from Tel Aviv University showed that sick bats, similar to humans, prefer to isolate themselves, probably for the purpose of recovery and perhaps also so as not to endanger their friends with infection.
The research was conducted by Kelsey Moreno and Maya Weinberg, a post-doctoral student and a post-doctoral student in the laboratory of Prof. Yossi Yuval, head of the Sagol School of Neuroscience, and a researcher from the School of Zoology in the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences.
As part of the study, the researchers followed two groups of Egyptian fruit bats: one group was tested in a closed enclosure and the other group operated in its natural environment in the wild. Also, to test the behavior of the sick bats, the researchers injected a number of bats in each group with a protein that mimics the bacteria in order to stimulate the immune system without risking the bats with the bacterial infection itself. The blood tests that the researchers performed on the "sick" bats revealed symptoms of disease such as an increase in body temperature, exhaustion and weight loss, and using GPS devices they examined the behavioral responses of the "sick" bats.
It turned out that the bats "infected with the disease" chose to isolate themselves and break away from the group. In the first group - the "sick" bats left the independent group, isolated themselves and kept a distance from their fellows. In the second group - the "sick" bats stayed in the cave and did not go out at dawn for food for 2 nights in a row.
The bats want to save energy
Research student Maya Weinberg explains that the maintenance of social distance probably stems from the need to save energy, since being in a group requires a constant investment of energy in social interactions. However, Weinberg emphasizes that this behavior may also help maintain the group and prevent the spread of the pathogen (a disease-spreading organism). Moreover, the work that the bats do not leave the cave will also prevent the transfer of the pathogen to other colonies. "The conscious choice of the bats to stay away from the rule is a very abnormal behavior for them, since it is a very social animal that lives in caves in high density," emphasizes Weinberg. "The behavior of the bats is very reminiscent of the behavior of us humans when we recover from an illness. It turns out that just as we prefer when we are sick to lie at home quietly under the blanket, so too do the bats, who live in tremendous density inside the caves, prefer to be alone and look for silence so that they can recover in peace."
Prof. Yuval adds that the research findings imply that the chances of transferring bat pathogens to humans are very low on a routine basis due to the behavior of sick bats that tend to isolate themselves and not leave the cave. "We saw that during a disease situation the bats choose to separate themselves from the environment and not leave the colony at all. This implies that in order to come across a sick bat, the person has to literally invade the natural environment of the bats or eliminate their habitats. That is, if we protect them, they will also protect us."
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