The study found that wild vampire bats become socially distant when they are sick.
Scientists had previously observed this behavior in laboratory conditions, but wanted to find out if it occurred in the wild.
The researchers caught 31 adult female vampire bats from a hollow tree in Lamanai, Belize. The team injected half of the bats with lipopolysaccharide, an immune-inhibiting substance, to make them sick, while the other half received injections of saline.
The researchers then stuck proximity sensors to the bats and left them back in their tree.
The team followed the temporal changes in the associations between the 16 sick bats and 15 control bats.
The researchers found that the sick animals spent less time around others, connected with fewer group members, and were less socially connected with those who were healthy.
The study, published in Behavioral Ecology, found that in the six hours after injection, a sick bat was associated with an average of four fewer workers than a bat that was injected with saline.
On average, a control bat had a 49% chance of connecting to each control bat, but only a 35% chance of connecting to a sick bat.
They also found that these differences decreased after the first six hours and when the bats were sleeping or foraging outside.
The study’s lead author, Simon Ripperger of the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organism Biology at Ohio State University, said, “The sensors gave us an amazing new window on how these bats’ social behavior was changing by the hour, and even by the minute Minute during the day and night, even when hidden in the darkness of a hollow tree.
“We no longer collected data every day, but every few seconds.”
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