Monday, October 31, 2011

The Vampire Bat

Perhaps no other animal is more closely associated with Halloween than the vampire bat. Whereas most bats feed on fruit or flying insects, vampire bats feed almost exclusively on blood; of the three living species, only the common vampire bat feeds on the blood of mammals, the others only target birds.
Common vampire bats can be found throughout most of South and Central America and Mexico. At less than four inches long and weighing only two ounces, vampire bats aren’t considered scary so much as they are regarded as pests by ranchers, as they frequently target livestock animals.

Vampire bats usually live in colonies of 100 to 1000 individuals. They spend their days sleeping and only leave to feed once total darkness has set in. Though they will target wild mammals and even humans on rare occasions, common vampire bats prefer to feed on domestic horses and cattle.
Vampire bats have good eyesight, but primarily use their hearing and sense of smell to track down prey. Once a host has been found, the bat will either land on it or land near it, choosing to either scramble up the victim or feed on it from the ground. The bat will then use the heat sensors in its nose to locate blood vessels close to the skin’s surface. Once a suitable spot has been found (usually near the rump or neck), the bat will use its razor sharp incisors to make a small wound and lap up blood until it has nearly doubled its weight. Too heavy to fly after its meal, the vampire bat (which is quite agile on the ground) will find a sheltered spot to rest and digest until it can fly again.

Despite its gluttonous feeding habits, the tiny vampire bat never drinks enough blood to endanger a large mammal. In fact, it is common for them to return to the same host to feed every night, even defending it from other hungry vampire bats.

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