What can we learn from other animals about social distancing? Evolutionarily, group-living animals that effectively socially distance during an outbreak of disease improve the health of their colony and go on to produce offspring which, in turn, socially distance when confronted with disease.
Insects, like bees and ants, are nature’s experts at social distancing. Ants and bees are animals that live in tight spaces within a colony of thousands of others. Similar to our gathering spaces, like shopping centers and college dorms, these habitats can become a perfect place for disease to spread. Honeybees live in hives with up to 80,000 other bees. When a honeybee gets infected, they emit an odor that the other bees can detect. Once the sick bee is identified, they eject the bee out of the hive in order to prevent spread.
On the other hand, when ants become infected, both the healthy and the sick quickly change their behavior. The sick ants self-isolate and the healthy ants rally around the most vulnerable, such as the queen and nurse ants, isolating them from any foraging ants that could potentially expose them.
Once fox squirrels leave the nest in the spring, they are mostly solitary, only pairing up during mating season. Males will nest with the female, but quickly move on to find another mate, leaving the female to raise her young on her own. You may often see them bickering with each other over territory and nest space— it’s no wonder they live mostly solitary lives!
As we all grapple with big changes in our social lives, our animal friends along the South Platte offer us some important lessons about protecting our communities and taking a little personal space. Next time you take a walk in your local park, see if you can spot any of these solitary creatures– and most importantly, stay safe and stay healthy!