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All Creatures,

Episode 60: Spectacularly Spooky, the Vampire Bat

October 30, 2018

Absolutely terrifying in appearance and behavior, yet one of the most incredibly adapted mammals on our planet. The Vampire Bat has some incredible physiology that has been adapted over millions of year. They are the only mammal that survives on a diet entirely of blood.  

Vampire Bat Description

Vampire Bats are relatively small bats, colored a dark grey-brown, with a wingspan of only 7 in (18 cm) and a body length half that size at 3.5 in (9 cm). They weigh less than 2 ounces. Yet, their reputation is huge as a blood eating (not sucking mammal). These bats have specialized receptors on their noses that allow them to detect blood vessels and with surgical precision they will make a cut on medium to larger animals, and then lick up the blood. Their saliva is specially adapted with a protein called “draculin” that prevents the clotting of the blood. Additionally, they have specialized microbes in their stomachs that allows complete digestion of red blood cells, getting the nutrients they need.

Vampire Bats belong to the bat family Phyllostomidae, or also called the “leaf-nosed” bats. There are three species of Vampire Bats:

Over 26 million years ago, early ancestors of Vampire Bats fed on parasitic insects, which usually contained an animal’s blood. Thus, over time, Vampire Bats evolved to be specialized in eating just blood, nothing else. A tremendous variety of specializations occurred during that time, including the:

  • evolution of anticoagulants in the saliva,
  • modifications to the teeth,
  • physiological adaptations for digesting blood and excreting excess water,
  • anatomical changes to facilitate preying on sleeping mammals or roosting birds, and
  • sensory adaptations to detect prey and blood flow sites.

Vampire Bat Facts

The Vampire Bat is native to the Americas. Due to the warming of the climate they are now found in South Texas.

Other facts include:

  • Live 9 years in the wild, 20 years under human care
  • Nocturnal animals that can fly out to 20 km from their roosting site
  • Only bat that can run and jump on the ground
  • Can only survive two days without a meal
  • Live in colonies with a single dominant male and 100 females
  • Blood contains many viruses and these bats have a specialized immune system

Vampire Bat Conservation

While Vampire Bats are listed as “Least Concern,” they are thought of as a nuisance to livestock and are being eradicated by farmers. These mass killings are not only killing Vampire Bats, but they also unintentionally kill other bats, like fruit bats, and other native wildlife.

Conservation Tips

Become a Citizen Scientist! Wherever you live in the world you can help identify bats native to your area. Visit the Bat Detective website to learn more. You can record and identify the bat calls in your area.

Organizations to Support

Bat Conservation International

Lubee Bat Conservancy

Bat Conservation Trust

 

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