Yes, there really IS a Vampire bat. And he’s perhaps the most misunderstood bat of them all! No, Vampire bats don’t turn into Dracula or any other Hollywood-depicted evil creature. They do, however, drink the blood of other animals, usually large animals like horses, cows, pigs, donkeys, and very rarely, people. There are three species of vampire bats. One species feed mostly on birds (like chickens and turkeys) and not mammals.
The vampire bat is only found in Mexico, and Central and South America. It does not live in the United States. It is a small bat and is only about 3 inches long (head and body). During the day, they sleep in dark caves, mine shafts, or abandoned buildings. At night they come out to feed. They fly low to the ground and when they spot a host animal to feed on, they land very softly and quietly several yards away from the sleeping animal. Then the vampire bat quietly “walks” up to its sleeping prey (remember bat’s knees point backward so the bat has a very “awkward looking” walk– more like a hobble). It hobbles on its hind legs and wrists until it reaches its prey. Its body is very light and is rarely felt by the host animal. The bat’s thumbs are used to cling to its host and climb around on the animal. The vampire bat’s front teeth are razor-sharp and its upper incisors are angled and perfect for quickly puncturing the skin of its sleeping victim. Usually the sleeping cow, horse or pig isn’t even aware of the bat, doesn’t even feel its bite, and usually doesn’t even wake up! As blood flows from the tiny puncture wounds, the bat licks it up, much like a kitten laps up milk (it does not suck the blood like many people think). There is an anticoagulant in the bat’s saliva that makes the wound continue to bleed while the bat finishes up drinking what it wants. The entire meal of blood may be only one to two tablespoons of blood. So the livestock animal doesn’t lose vast quantities of blood and suffers no pain from this bite. The bat DOES NOT kill its host animal nor does it turn the animal into a vampire!
Feeding, for the vampire bat, is not always an easy process. Sometimes finding a victim to feed on, and bleeding it without getting detected, can take several hours. A bite does not always produce blood. If the bat goes two nights in a row without feeding, it dies. The vampire bat will either roost alone, in a small group with a few other vampire bats, or in a large colony. Most large colonies are made up of 20 or more female bats, their young, and a few adult males who guard the female. The female vampire bats are very social animals and bond with one another on a deep level. They roost together every night and are known to groom one another. They will also share in the grooming of the young bats in the colony. What is fascinating about this particular bat is that they are known to share their meal of blood with others in the colony who were maybe unlucky in finding a meal. This helps to ensure survival of the colony. Vampire bats are the only type of bat known to adopt orphan babies!
Vampire bats supposedly dislike human blood so humans are very rarely bitten by the vampire bat. Vampire bats can carry rabies, like other mammals. In South America, vampire bats have been subjected to massive eradication programs because they transmit rabies to cattle. About 100,000 cattle die from rabies each year from the bites of vampire bats.
The anticoagulant found in the saliva of vampire bats is one of the most potent anticoagulants (clot dissolvers or blood thinners) known. It has been used to treat human stroke victims to dissolve their clots. Researchers are studying this anticoagulant and it may soon be used to help humans with heart problems. So vampire bats can be very beneficial to humans.