Monkeys Documented Eating Bats in First-Ever Footage

The observations suggest another way deadly diseases such as Ebola could travel from animal to animal, and, potentially, humans.

<p>Felix Angwella / Gombe Hybrid Monkey Project<span></span></p>

For the first time, researchers say, video and photos have been captured of monkeys eating bats. While interesting on their own, the observations also have implications for the spread of deadly diseases such as Ebola.

The visual documentation was gathered by a team of scientists from Florida Atlantic University (FAU), who spent more than six years in the forests of Kenya and Tanzania watching monkeys of the genus Cercopithecus prey on bats.

In all they saw 13 such "predation events" undertaken, apparently, with zeal.

"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," said study co-author and FAU anthropology professor Kate Detwiler, in a statement.

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Deadly, infectious diseases termed zoonotic can be transmitted to humans from animals and bats are well known carriers of them, as are primates. Humans coming into contact with such infected animals are at risk.

Prior to the FAU team's observations, say the researchers, predatory interactions between bats and monkeys weren't well documented, and scientists had previously thought primates picked up diseases from bats by eating fruit that had bat saliva or feces on it.

The team's observations, then, may have bearing on new pathways by which diseases can spread.

"Predator-prey relations between bats and primates are little considered by disease ecologists, but may contribute to transmission of zoonotic disease, including Ebola virus," Detwiler and her fellow authors wrote.

WATCH VIDEO: African Monkey Eating a Bat (Video Credit: Elizabeth Tapanes / Gombe Hybrid Monkey Project)

click to play video

The scientists wrote that the monkeys not only ate the bats but also had long interactions with bat carcasses. It took the primates from several minutes to a bit more than one hour to eat a bat. In one case, a monkey ate a bat's bones as well.

The bats were easy pickings, literally, for the monkeys.

Lead author of the study, Elizabeth Tapanes, a recent anthropology grad of FAU, said her team on two occasions saw a bat plucked from its roosting tree during the day by a monkey.

"Roosting bats were likely easy prey that could be reached while torpid or asleep," she said.

The study's findings are detailed in the journal EcoHealth.