For most of us, this is our first experience with social distancing, but among other animals, the practice of maintaining distance to mitigate the spread of disease is quite common. It turns out that many animals including bats, bees, and tortoises also practice social distancing.
Seeking to gain insights into our own experience with the pandemic, a trio of researchers from Hamilton College, Virginia Tech, and the University of Pittsburgh turned to the world of animals to learn more about infectious diseases. They analyzed studies of social animals including lobsters, bats, bees, humans, Tasmanian devils, frogs, birds, and wolves to see how they adjust their social habits when facing new infectious diseases.
They found that while not all species approach disease the same way, there were many similarities. They found that healthy lobsters steer clear of sick ones and that bats self-isolate when they’re under the weather. In closer relation to humans, they found that female gorillas will join a new social group in response to infectious skin lesions on troop mates. They discovered that even bees will avoid coming back to the hive if they have picked up an infection.
Although it is rare for any extended-period social distancing to take place in the animal world, the researchers did point out that the many virtual tech resources available to humans give us a significant leg up in the realm of social distancing. So if you’re missing your loved ones right now and aching for home, remember that many animals, from ants to monkeys, social distance to protect themselves and the ones they love. If the animals can do it, so can you!