Nature's Real Vampires

Nature's Real Vampires

10 Animals That Want to Suck Your Blood.

By Simone M. Scully
Published: 10/14/2013

Some emerge at night, creeping up on their unsuspecting prey under cover of darkness. Others are so stealthy or well camouflaged that their victims never see them coming. Many of them have razor-sharp teeth, and some can jump up to 150 times their own height or defy assassination attempts. All, however, are after the same prize: warm, oozing blood.

While they might sound like characters in an Anne Rice vampire novel, animals ranging from leeches to bats and even birds consume blood. (Scroll down for a list of 10 real-life vampires.) "There's blood everywhere," points out Bill Schutt, vampire bat researcher and author of Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures. "I'm surprised there aren't more animals that evolved to have it as part of their diet."

While so-called sanguivores are a diverse group, they face similar challenges in finding and feeding on blood, and have evolved a variety of adaptations to suit this specialized diet.

Most vampires are small, which helps them to evade detection. They have finely tuned sensory systems that home in on their next meal. Incredibly sharp teeth, or comparable tools, slice into flesh easily, decreasing the pain inflicted on the host. Finally, bloodsuckers have developed anti-coagulants that keep the red liquid flowing while they feed.

While sanguivores can be deadly--not because they drain you dry but because they carry diseases--many are merely nuisances to humans. In some cases we even benefit from them. Hirudin, for example, an anti-coagulant found in leech saliva, is used to prevent blood clots after surgery.

Here are 10 real, wild bloodsuckers.

Vampire Finches

The vampire finch of the Galapagos Islands is not, as Schutt says, a "card-carrying vampire." It sups on the red stuff in addition to its regular diet of seeds, nectar, and eggs.

The vampire finch, one of the only birds known to consume blood, acquires the liquid-iron supplement by pecking the wing and tail of the blue-footed booby until it bleeds. Only one bird will drink from the booby at a time, but others line up behind. "It's pretty comical to see three or four birds just waiting for the next bird to move away," says Schutt. "I guess this behavior evolved because if they swarmed the booby, it would get upset and move away." The booby doesn't appear to suffer any long-term damage from serving as a donor.

Lampreys

Lampreys are jawless fish that live mostly in coastal and fresh waters. Sometimes called eels because they have long eel-like bodies, they spend the first several years of their lives as harmless larvae. As adults, however, certain species are parasitic. These incredibly successful hunters attach themselves to other fish species and even marine mammals. They strike their quarry with their circular mouth, holding on with their hook-like teeth for hours or even days as they eat. While such attacks might kill smaller fish, victims that escape carry a visual reminder of the encounter: a circle-shaped scar.

Two parasitic lampreys, silver and chestnut, are native to the Great Lakes. Since the 1930s they've been competing with an invasive species, the sea lamprey, which Great Lakes officials have spent decades trying to combat and prevent from spreading further.

Vampire Bats

Of the world's more than 1,000 bat species, only three drink blood. These flying mammals, native to South America, Central America, and two Caribbean islands, are about the size of a mouse. They slip their slim, sharp incisors and canines into the flesh of mammals or birds, and then lick up the blood seeping from the wound (it keeps flowing because of anti-coagulants in their saliva), swallowing up to five teaspoons' worth--about half their body weight--in a feeding. "They have to feed on blood constantly," says Schutt. "Not only do they have to get it every night, but they have to get enough of it not to starve. These animals can starve to death in 48 hours."

The common vampire bat (which, as its name suggests, is the most widespread) feeds on the blood of cattle and other livestock. It creeps along the ground at night, and then springs up to three feet high onto its quarry.

The other two sanguivorous bats, the hairy-legged vampire and the white-winged vampire, prey on sleeping birds perched in trees. "They crawl underneath the branch, they crawl underneath the birds' foot, and they just use their teeth to flick one of those scales away," says Schutt. "The bird doesn't usually know anything as the bite is so sharp." White-winged vampire bats sometimes feed on chickens. One cozies up to the hen, nuzzling her like a chick, while another sneaks up behind to feed.

Vampire bats can carry rabies, and in warm, humid climates, the open wounds they cause are susceptible to infection.

Fleas

All of the world's 2,000-plus flea species subsist on mammal blood. The insects can lie dormant in a cocoon for more than a year before they sense the body heat and vibrations that signal the presence of nearby hosts. Fleas have no wings, but they get by just fine without them: Their legs launch them into the air, to heights more than 200 times their own body length. Fleas have four rows of "teeth" that stab the skin to release a flow of blood. This tiny, paper-thin vampire will keep biting long after it's had its fill--up to 15 times its weight--passing the excess on to its larvae.

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Simone M. Scully

Simone M. Scully is a reporter at Audubon Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @ScullySimone

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine

Comments

I beg to disagree with you

I beg to disagree with you sir. Using night vision binoculars,I have personally observed vampire bats feed on cattle and donkeys in southern Tamualipas state, about 250 miles south of Brownsville, Texas.
B

When the man was bitten in

When the man was bitten in Mexico, he was in North America.

I completely agree. I would

I completely agree. I would just like to add that I've read vampire bats rarely come into contact with people. They target livestock and other large animals--not people.

No where does the segment on

No where does the segment on vampire bats even suggest someone dying or North America. It does a very good job of relating the facts about the animal. The only place where it even suggests that there are any risks is where the author says that the wounds are susceptible to infection.

The causative agent of Chagas

The causative agent of Chagas disease is a protozoan, not a bacterium. It is caused by the kinetoplastid parasite Trypanosoma cruzi.

Also, It should be noted that only a very small set of highly specialized assassin bugs can feed on vertebrate blood. The assassin bugs common in people's gardens and back yards cannot consume blood and, thus, cannot spread T. cruzi. These common assassin bugs may, however, puncture human skin with a "bite" as a defense mechanism.

Information on distinguishing predatory assassin bugs from blood-sucking, "kissing bugs" can be found on the CDC's website. http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/chagas/gen_info/vectors/#id

As for Lampreys, It would

As for Lampreys, It would have been nice to include that for the largest part of their life cycle they clean our rivers. This fact is usually removed from dialog because chemical companies dislike stakeholders making informed decisions. As larvae, for 3-7 years, all lampreys are filter feeders burrowed in stream sediment. "Lampricide" the chemical that is used to kill Sea lampreys also kills native species lampreys. On the west coast, the USFWS and Coastal Fisheries organizations are trying to save lampreys because they are the oldest migratory fish alive on the planet and as the USFWS has announced "you cannot save salmon without saving lampreys". The US is shooting itself in the foot by chemically poisoning our drinking water just because of irrational fears (and the Fishing Industry/chemical industry's powerful special interests). Lampreys help rivers. The sea lamprey research is outdated and much is incorrect propaganda. We cannot save our rivers without the lamprey that can uptake toxins.

Malaria exist in 109

Malaria exist in 109 countries, and 86% of those who are killed by this vector-borne disease, are children! Read more http://www.dovemed.com/article/malaria/

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