Great Britain

Dead clever: why vampire bats are the ultimate social-distancing experts

Name: Vampire bats.

Age: Diverged from fruit bats 26m years ago.

Appearance: Spookily responsible.

I’m going to dress up as a vampire bat for Halloween. That’s a genius idea, because it means you won’t have to leave the house.

Why? Well, it turns out that vampire bats are experts at social distancing.

They are? According to a new study in Behavioural Ecology, yes. Researchers scooped out dozens of bats from hollow trees, injected some of them with a substance that mimics a bacterial infection, and …

Wait, what? They kidnapped some vampire bats, injected them with …

Why are you describing the first scene of a terrifying horror movie? OK, it does sound like science gone berserk, but there is still some good news.

Is the good news: “The sick bats didn’t fly off, bite someone and cause an entirely new pandemic that is even deadlier than the one we’re already experiencing?” No. The good news is that the “sick” bats automatically knew to spend less time with other bats, to help contain the disease.

Really? Yes. And apparently this isn’t even very rare. According to a Scientific American article from August, lobsters, monkeys, fish, insects and birds are also known to socially distance when they detect illness in their peers.

Lobsters? Yes. Lobsters have a chemical in their urine that is triggered by infection. When other healthy lobsters sense the chemical in others, they know to back away until the illness has passed.

But why? Animals aren’t stupid. They know that if they keep palling around with infectious animals, then they will be hit with wave after wave of disease that could put their entire species in jeopardy.

That’s so clever. I mean, not all of them do. Just last week there was a mass rally of lobsters protesting against their lack of personal freedom and holding placards reading: “Pee chemicals are a myth propagated by the government.”

Really? No, of course not. I’m weaving a satirical fable that uses animals as a preposterous reflection of human behaviour. You know, like Orwell did.

Oh. But one lobster, who used to be in a band that everyone liked, does keep tweeting wild all-caps conspiracy theories about the pee chemicals.

Is this about Ian Brown? No. I’m talking about a lobster and his name is Ian Red. I am George Orwell.

Who knew that vampire bats were so health-conscious? Maybe if humans spent more time feasting on the blood of the innocent and less time complaining about face masks, we wouldn’t be in such a mess today.

Do say: “Vampire bats want to suck your blood.”

Don’t say: “But only from 2 metres away, through a straw.”

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