What do you know about vampire bats? They’re scary, they drink your blood, and they’re sometimes known to transform into humans with eccentric capes and hairdos, right?
Wrong! Most of that stuff is completely made up, the product of western mythology. Well, except for the blood drinking, they definitely do that. In fact, it’s all they survive on. And yes, they’ll even feast on humans!
Vampire bats are not picky eaters, they’ll snack on almost any type of animal from porcupines, to armadillos, sea lions, and even penguins.
But their preferred diet is livestock and birds, things they can sneak up on a little easier. With that in mind, if a human decides to take a nap outdoors in vampire bat country, the bats won’t hesitate to take a bite.
Blood is blood, and we’ve got lots of it. What would happen if one bit you? What specials skills do they use for hunting? And how are their social relationships similar to humans?
If a vampire bat bites you, chances are it’ll happen while you’re sleeping, and you probably wouldn’t even notice it. When you wake up, you might find a tiny bit of blood on your legs or feet, but that’s about it. Vampire bats only drink around a tablespoon of blood, so you’d have no problem surviving the meal, and no, you wouldn’t turn into a vampire.
But you might still want to get yourself to a hospital because one thing vampire bats have been known to transfer is rabies. In the animal kingdom, the bats’ victims have no problem surviving the minimal blood loss; it’s the disease and infection causing bites they have to worry about.
Oh, and here’s another fun fact for you: despite what the movies have told you, vampire bats don’t suck blood. They’ll bite you and drink your blood, but there’s no sucking involved.
When they sit down for dinner, they make a painless incision near an artery using their sharp teeth and then let the blood trickle out into a pool, before lapping it up like a cat.
The bats’ saliva contains a unique protein that makes sure the blood keeps flowing. Affectionately named “Draculin,” the protein prevents the blood of the prey from clotting and sealing up the wound.
This isn’t the only skill these guys have developed to make hunting a little easier; they also use their noses as heat-seeking sensors to find blood vessels to dig into.
For vampire bats to get this close to their prey, they’ve become proficient at sneaking up on them.
One way they do this is through their ability to see in the pitch black of night. Contrary to popular belief, vampire bats aren’t blind; they have great eyesight; they can spot delicious-looking cows from 130 meters away. And since they can’t carry flashlights when the sun goes down, they use echolocation to navigate their way in the dark.
Once the bat has found its meal for the night, it will land on the ground a good distance away from them, continuing its approach on foot.
The vampire bat has evolved to be as nimble on the ground as it is in flight. While other bats awkwardly navigate flat surfaces, the common vampire quickly hops along at more than one meter per second.
It’s funny, for all the time our society has spent building these creatures up as monsters, we’ve never stopped to focus on how similar they are to us.
Just like us, they form complex social relationships. Family and friends groom, and look out for one another. If a bat misses its dinner, another one will regurgitate their meal of blood, just like a mother bird does for her chicks.
These bonds extend beyond family members too. Individuals that you’ve fed in the past will come back and feed you in the future, creating a nice, bloody safety net for when bats can’t find food.
So while the idea of blood-sucking, flying furry things may seem pretty terrifying; vampire bats show us that there’s always more than meets the eye.