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Vampire Bats

Houston, TX

Vampire bats are often some of the most misunderstood animals. They were first described by French naturalist, Ètienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire in 1810 and were given several names until Oldfield Thomas named the vampire bat “desmodus rotundus” in 1901. 

vampire bats, bats, mammal, blood sucking, fangs, roost, anticoagulant, canines, ecolocate, polygynous,
Vampire Bat

The common vampire bat commonly inhabits South America, Mexico, and Central America and can also be found in the Caribbean Islands. These bats prefer warm and tropical climates and like to roost (a place where winged animals, especially birds or bats, rest or sleep) in abandoned caves and mines, trees, and old wells. Though they roost with several other bat species, they tend to be the most dominant as they often occupy the darkest and highest places in roosting sites. Due to the collected blood within the crevices and floors, roost sites typically smell of ammonia. Hence, when bats roost in these areas, they often carry rabies and other diseases. 

Research suggests that blood feeding in bats evolved a little more than four million years ago. Other traits in the bat, such as anticoagulant enzymes in their saliva, modifications to their teeth, and complications to their digestive system have evolved. Researchers have also identified many similarities with the saliva of leeches and the vampire bat. They have also discovered that both the vampire bat and leeches share a common ancestor. 

The common vampire bat is short-haired, with silver-gray fur on its undersides and  black fur on its back. They have deeply grooved lips with a flat leaf shaped nose. The bats also have clawed thumbs that help it climb onto prey and assist with flying. Though many bats have lost their ability to maneuver on land, vampire bats are an exception. Vampire bats can use their wings as forelimbs to propel themselves forward into a unique, bounding gait. Scientists think that this ability evolved independently in the bat lineage. Though they weigh about two ounces, after feeding, their weight can double. Hence, vampire bats usually walk around to digest their food. Vampire bats have large brains that are able to assist the bat in controlling their fangs and canines. With their liquid diet, the vampire bat doesn’t have very many teeth, but there are lateral grooves on the tongue that expand and contract as the bat feeds. 

Vampire bats can also echolocate, or send a super high-pitched sound around 20 Hz to 20 kHz. The sound then bounces back, giving the vampire bat a mental sound image of something out of sight. The vampire bat has heat sensors to find the perfect spot to drink its prey’s blood. One hungry bat can draw up to 1 pint of blood in approximately 7 hours.

Vampire bats usually drink blood from livestock, but it has been known to drink the blood of humans. In captivity, they have been known to drink the blood of snakes, lizards, crocodiles, toads, and turtles. While hunting, vampire bats typically land beside their prey and bite their prey near the heart or neck. Though the bites are not fatal, they have been known to set off harmful infections and diseases.

Common vampire bats roost in colonies of females or in resident male colonies (groups of male bats). There is a separate group of males called non-resident males. Bats within their respective colonies are often cooperative. Since blood is very low in calories, vampire bats will die if they go without feeding for more than 3-4 days in a row. This makes them even share meals.

A female vampire bat mates year-round, but mating usually peaks during the rainy season. Vampire bats are highly polygynous (having multiple females as mates). The young vampire bats are called pups, and the mother typically gives birth to one pup per pregnancy. Until the pup is about six months old, the mother usually leaves to go hunt and then calls her young back after its hunt is over. After six months, the pup accompanies the mother in its hunts. Female pups stay with their colonies unless their mother dies or moves out while male pups stay until they are one to two years old. Vampire bats reach reproductive maturity at around nine to ten months old. 

Though vampire bats currently do not face any known population threats, it is critical to protect their native habitat. With cultural and scientific significance in many communities, vampire bats are complex organisms that are unique. 


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