KIGOMA, Tanzania, May 24 (UPI) -- New research offers the first detailed documentation of bat predation and consumption by African monkeys.
Bats are known carriers of the Ebola, Marburg and Henipa viruses. Previous studies have documented the spread of these diseases from bat to primate, as well as from animal host to human.
But until now, scientists hypothesized that monkeys contracted such viruses via bat saliva left on fruits and flowers. It's possible transmission does occur this way, but the latest findings suggest bats and guenons -- Old World monkeys of the genus Cercopithecus -- have regular predator-prey interactions. These interactions are more likely to enable the spread of disease.
In a recent study, published in the journal EcoHealth, researchers from Florida Atlantic University recounted their observations of Cercopithecus monkeys preying on two bat species in Gombe National Park in Tanzania.
"Our study found that Cercopithecus monkeys opportunistically preyed on bats not only in Gombe, but also in the Kakamega Forest in Kenya," study co-author Kate Detwiler, an assistant professor of anthropology at FAU, said in a news release. "The behavior that we observed and the persistence of these monkeys to capture their prey indicate that bats are desirable items in their food repertoire."
Guenons mostly eat fruits, flowers and some leaves, but they're opportunistic omnivores and will eat lizards, snakes, frogs and other small species. The monkeys weren't seen snatching bats out of midair. Instead, the guenons were observed pulling roosting bats from their nesting sites -- most likely while they were asleep or resting, a relatively easy target.
The newly documented behavior was observed in and around habitats adjacent to and modified by human developments -- fragmented forests, plantation forests and forest edges.
"While effects of habitat change on bats are unknown and merit further study, our observations suggest that Cercopithecus monkeys preying on bats may be habitat specific, and possibly affected by anthropogenic habitat changes," explained Elizabeth Tapanes, the study's first author.
Some 60 percent of human diseases originate in animals, so understanding their routes of transmission through the animal kingdom is important for predicting and controlling disease outbreaks and their spread among humans.