Nature shows that social distancing is nothing new

Social distancing lion -- The Hot Mess Press

Most of us have had enough of COVID-19 and how it changed life as we knew it. Social distancing affects our lives in more ways than we ever expected, and adjusting to it requires patience. We have redefined work life, home life, social life and any other aspect of our and our children’s lives. For centuries, bees, mice, ants, apes, monkeys and other animals have survived outbreaks of deadly diseases. When animals practice social distancing we call it instinct. However, when humans practice social distancing we call it intelligence. Why would that be?

How do ants manage social distancing?

Social Distancing ants

We have always admired black garden ants, considered by many as “superorganisms.” They work together in hordes. The colonies have nurses who move infected ants deeper into the nest to isolate them. They adjust their everyday routines during this time of social distancing and caring for the sick ants. In the meantime, a troupe of foragers gathers food for the infected ants. Scientists also found that when the foragers became infected during their excursions, they recognize the symptoms within a day. Their immediate response is to limit their contact with the other ants in the colony. They continue the self-isolation until they are healthy again.

Even honeybees practice social distancing

Social distancing Honeybees

Like ants, bees live in tightly packed hives and defusing outbreaks of diseases is vital. There is no shortage of viruses, parasites, bacteria and fungi that threaten their survival. For example, American foulbrood, a bacterial illness that researchers explain in the journal Scientific Reports. Victims of this disease emit two chemicals, each with distinctive smells. Other bees do not react to those smells individually. However, the combo of the two smells alerts the entire hive. Once they identify the source, they remove all the infected larvae from their hive.

Researchers recognized social distancing in frogs

Bullfrog tadpole

A researcher at Yale University says a study of American Bullfrogs led to evidence of nonhuman animals recognizing infection risks and taking steps to reduce the risk. The researchers learned that the tadpoles of the bullfrogs quickly detected Candida humicola in other bullfrog tadpoles. After identifying infected tadpoles, the healthy ones made sure they stayed away from others to ensure they do not suffer harm or die.

Gorillas use visual cues to avoid contact

Social Distancing Gorilla

The Western lowland gorillas in Central Africa do not detect illness by smell. Instead, they use visual cues. For example, a bacterial infection called yaws. Researchers reported that visible ulcers appear on the faces of diseased gorillas. A 2019 study of 600 gorillas over a 10-year period showed females left diseased groups and joined healthy groups. The research showed that the gorillas recognized symptoms and figured out that certain diseases are contagious.

Mandrill monkeys check each other’s poop for parasites

Mandrills grooming

In an ongoing study of the highly social mandrills in Gabon, researchers followed a group of 25 for two years. They found that healthy mandrills did not ostracize sick members of the group. Instead, they spent less time grooming the sick ones. The most interesting fact here was the ability of these monkeys to identify parasites in each other’s poop. The more parasite presence the less grooming time they received. The researchers were able to provide medical treatment to the infected members of the group. Once their poop was free of parasites, they were welcomed back to enjoy the grooming sessions.

Some animals practice self-isolation

Vampire Bats

According to researchers, some animals handle disease control differently. For example, healthy mice and vampire bats continue their usual socializing with infected members of their groups. Instead, in both these species, the sick animals remove themselves and stay in isolation until they recover.

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