Bats are the second largest group of mammals in the world (rodents are the largest) including more than 1,330 different species. They can be found on every continent (except frigid Antartica), and are the only mammals capable of true and sustained flight. Habitats and diets of bats are varied, but most are nocturnal and bugs, both flying and ground dwelling, are their primary food source, each bat typically consuming several hundred insects in a few hours and a third of its body weight during one night of hunting. Only three bat species consume animal blood exclusively: the common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundas) go for livestock, while the hairy-legged (Diphylla ecaudata) and white-winged (Diaemus youngi) vampire bats prefer birds.
It’s chilling to think about this bat sinking its teeth into flesh on a dark night, and visions from Dracula movies come quickly to mind. So, first impression—not much to love. However, studies of vampire bats have revealed their surprisingly amiable traits and extraordinary intellect.
Vampire Bats Don’t Suck, They Lick
First, we must address the most disturbing and frightening vampire bat behavior — they drink blood. The common vampire bat will feed on any warm blooded animal, but it doesn’t bite, suck and slurp out blood as shown in horror films. Rather, the process involves a painless bite with razor sharp teeth while the target is sleeping and lapping up about a tablespoon of blood. Rarely does a vampire bat feed on human blood, and the risk of rabies infection is minimal; however, incidents have been documented. Admittedly, this information is not altogether comforting. Let’s move on.
They’re Social, Sharing, and Caring
All three vampire bat species can be found in the arid to humid, tropical and subtropical areas of the Americas, from Mexico to Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina and the island of Trinidad. They live in small and large colonies located in totally dark places, such as caves, old wells, tree hollows and buildings, and the relationships within the colonies are cooperative and caring. For example, vampire bats maintain social contact with vocal exchanges, and form strong bonds by engaging in social grooming and food sharing. They have been observed within a colony feeding a hungry bat in danger of starving by regurgitating and sharing a small amount of blood, and it’s believed the benevolence is later reciprocated by the grateful bat. Signs of true friendship.
They are Scary Smart
They need to be clever to survive in this hostile world, and have proven to be more than capable. Researchers are just beginning to understand the aptitude of these intelligent animals as lab experiments seem to indicate vampire bats can be trained to perform tasks and will retain the learning for a significant period of time.
Watch vampire bats in action, and learn more about their social behaviors in this short video (3 minutes) from Gerald Carter, a biologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.
BAT HOUSES: Bat species around the world are experiencing habitat loss. Placing an artificial roost in your backyard gives them a safe and comfortable place to live and is a great way to help them survive. Find out everything thing you need to know about bat houses and how to attract bats to your backyard → HERE
Common Vampire Bat, The Animal Files and National Geographic websites
Prepared Learning in Bats (Sept 11, 2016) social bat.org
What Can Vampire Bats Teach Us About Friendship? (Aug 11, 2016) by Leah Shaffer, sapiens.org
Vampire Bats, Wikipedia
The Art and Science of Bats, Smithsonian collections and study
Bat Conservation International (find out what the problems are and how you can help)
Organization for Bat Conservation
Find out about Bat Week – an international, annual celebration designed to raise awareness about the need for bat conservation (2019: October 24 – 31)
The photo of the common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundas) was taken from the Field Guide to Amazonian Bats (2016, National Institute of Amazonian Research, Manaus, Brazil), López-Baucells, A., Rocha, R., Bobrowiec, P.E.D., Bernard, E., Palmeirim, J.M. & Meyer, C.F.J. The guide is free to view and download from the Tropical Conservation Bat Research Group website page.
Bat flying under a full moon feature photo by Flickr user, Jeroen Zwaal, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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