Evidence of ‘sickness behaviour’ in bats with white-nose syndrome

In: Behaviour
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  • 1 aDepartment of Biology and Centre for Forest Interdisciplinary Research University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
  • | 2 bDepartment of Veterinary Microbiology, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada
  • | 3 cCanadian Wildlife Health Cooperative and Department of Veterinary Pathology, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada
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Many animals change behaviour in response to pathogenic infections. White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a fungal skin disease causing rapid declines of North American bats. Infection with Pseudogymnoascus destructans causes hibernating bats to arouse from torpor too often, potentially causing starvation. Mechanisms underlying increased arousals are not understood but fungal invasion of the wings could trigger thirst to relieve fluid loss or grooming to relieve skin irritation. Alternatively, bats might exhibit ‘sickness behaviour’, a suite of responses to infection that save energy. We quantified behaviours of healthy and experimentally inoculated little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) that could reflect active (i.e., drinking, grooming) or inactive (i.e., sickness behaviour) responses to infection. Infected bats groomed less and were less likely to visit their water dish compared to controls. These results are consistent with research suggesting that P. destructans causes sickness behaviour which could help bats compensate for energetic costs associated with infection.

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