ABSTRACT

The global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and the role of bats in zoonotic spillover have renewed interest in the flight-as-fever hypothesis, which posits that high body temperatures experienced by bats during flight contribute to their high viral tolerance. We argue that flight-as-fever is unlikely to explain why bats harbor more viruses than other mammals on the basis of two lines of reasoning. First, flight temperatures reported in the literature overestimate true flight temperatures because of methodologic limitations. Second, body temperatures in bats are only high relative to humans, and not relative to many other mammals. We provide examples of mammals from diverse habitats to show that temperatures in excess of 40 C during activity are quite common in species with lower viral diversity than bats. We caution scientists against stating the flight-as-fever hypothesis as unquestioned truth, as has repeatedly occurred in the popular media in the wake of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

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