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Social Distancing in Nature | Scienmag: the latest science and health news

Forage ants do it, vampire bats do it, guppies do that, and mandrills do. Long before humans learned and started “social distancing due to COVID-19,” animals in nature intuitively practiced social distancing when someone became ill.

In a new review published in ScienceDana Hawley, a professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech School of Science and colleagues from the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Bristol, The University of Texas at San Antonio, and the University of Connecticut highlight just a few – the human species that practice social distancing and the lessons learned from their methods of stopping. Spread of bacterial, viral and parasitic infections.

“Looking at non-human animals can tell us something about what we need to do as a community to make it so that individuals can act in ways that protect themselves and society as a whole,” Hawley said, an associate faculty member at the Center for Global Change and the Center for Emerging Pathogens, Animal and Arthropods, both of which exist. At the Fralin Institute of Life Sciences.

“Staying at home and limiting interactions with others is an intuitive behavioral response when we feel sick – a response we see across many types of animals in nature – but humans often suppress this instinct, at a huge potential cost to ourselves and our societies, because pressure to continue,” Hawley added. Work or attend classes even while sick. “

We have all had the experience of feeling sick. You may feel lethargic and not seem to be gathering energy to get out of bed or hang out with friends. Although you may not know it, you do practice a kind of social distancing. Since you don’t try very hard to avoid people and only cope with the punches of general malaise, Hawley and the co-authors refer to this as “negative social distancing.” Of course, this has also been observed in non-human species.

Vampire bats, which only feed on the blood of other animals, have been well studied because they are very social, compared to their relatives of bats that eat fruit and insects. Since blood is not dietary and difficult to find most days, bats form strong social bonds by sharing food and grooming – or licking and brushing each other’s furs.

To learn more about their “disease behavior,” or how their behavior changes in response to infection, researchers inject the bats with a small piece of cell membrane from a Gram-negative bacterium known as lipopolysaccharides. The harmless substance triggers an immune response and pathological behaviors, such as decreased activity and reduced grooming, without actually exposing them to pathogens.

“Negative social distancing in vampire bats is a” byproduct of “disease behavior,” said Sebastian Stockmayer, who led the review while receiving his PhD. A student at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is still an affiliate. “For example, sick vampire bats may be more lethargic so that they can convert energy into a costly immune response. We have seen that this lethargy reduces contact with others and that sick vampire bats care less for each other.”

Mandrills also exhibit grooming behaviors in order to maintain their social bonds, as well as cleanliness. However, these highly social primates are strategic with regards to social distancing behaviors. Because their grooming behaviors are important to maintaining their standing in society, they avoid mates in the contagious group, while sometimes increasing their risk of infection by continuing to care for their affected relatives.

On the other hand, many types of ants practice some form of active social distancing. Over the course of evolution, some ant species have adapted to shed their tight knit groups when they feel sick. In these cases, the self-sacrifice of the affected individual is seen as an act of public good to protect the rest of the colony and carry the genes that will sustain the colony’s closely related future prosperity.

But there are other cases where healthy animals go out of their way to exclude sick individuals from the group or by avoiding contact with them altogether.

Bees are another group of social insects whose main goal is to do everything for the greater good of the hive and the queen. So when infected bees are detected inside the hive, healthy bees have no choice but to exclude the affected bees – by forcefully expelling them from the hive.

In other species, it is healthy individuals who leave the group to protect themselves from disease, but often at great cost. To reduce the risk of contracting or transmitting a virus, healthy Caribbean lobsters give up their den when it detects a member of the group infected with it. Not only does this lose protection within the group and their den, but they also expose themselves to deadly predators in the open ocean. But for them, it is worth the risk to avoid a very deadly virus.

Although not all cases are this dangerous, reducing a person’s social interactions will always have consequences of some kind, including losing warmth or having more difficulty finding food.

Unfortunately, humans have become aware of the costs and benefits of social distancing since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Hawley says there are actually many ways in which we have changed our behavior in the midst of illness, without even realizing it.

“COVID-19 has really shed light on the many ways in which we use behavior to deal with disease,” Hawley said. “I think we’ve all used these types of behaviors unconsciously throughout our lives, and only now the focus is on how important these behaviors are in protecting ourselves from getting sick.

“If you are sitting on a plane and someone next to you is coughing, you may want to talk to him less, or you may read on one side of your seat. There are many ways in which we change our behavior to reduce the risk of disease and we do it all the time without thinking because it is so ingrained in us of Evolutionary point. “

As new SARS-Cov-2 mutations emerge, humans will have to continue to wear masks to protect themselves, others and social distancing. Unlike animals in nature, humans have developed a technique like Zoom to create social bonds and bridges while physically distancing themselves from others. Hawley also explored hypothetical technology as a way to offset the costs of social distancing in humans in a review published in Royal Society proceedings b.

Whether you are a forage ant, spiny Caribbean lobster, or a human, it is clear that social distancing is a behavior that benefits us as individuals and the community that binds us together. Therefore, we must take care of ourselves and others by practicing a more explicit and more urgent behavior, now than ever before: active social distancing.

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