Underdogs of the Animal World: Vampire Bat
When I say vampire, what do you think? Edward Cullen in all his sparkly moodiness? Kirsten Dunst being creepy and, like, 12? Or maybe the Coreys rocking leather like a boss? Whatever your flavour of undead, you should give some major kudos to the humble vampire bat, ‘cause without them, your fanged fantasies would definitely/probably/possibly/I don’t know not even exist.
There are three types of vampire bat: The common vampire bat, the white-winged vampire bat and the hairy-legged vampire bat. I’m mostly going to be telling you about the common vampire bat, because they are pretty cool, despite having “common” in their name. They should really be called the super-duper-amazingly-epic-really-lovely-bat bat. And I should get a job at naming animals, because I am obviously talented at it, and don’t go around making them feel inadequate.
Now say what you like about vampire bats, (except if it’s mean, because if you can’t say anything nice, etc. You don’t want to hurt their feelings now, do you?) but you cannot say that they are not freaking adorable. Just look! They’re teeny tiny too, as big as a tea cup, and fluffy like candy floss and happiness. Yes, I just said that. No, I don’t regret it.
All vampire bats hang out in the New World, in dark places like caves and old buildings, basically anywhere that’s spooky and hasn’t got any people cluttering up the place. Vampire bats are social animals and live in large groups, which can number up to a thousand; usually lots and lots of lady bats and one main guy, known as the resident male. It’s basically the plot of Mean Girls. Imagine Damien in his hoodie and shades and that’s EXACTLY what vampire bat life is like. Exactly. The other guys are known as non-resident males and hang out away from the main group, but they are allowed in when it gets a bit chilly, because, you know, huddling for warmth and all that jazz.
Obviously, vampire bats only come out at night. I know that you knew that already, because you are smart and awesome. But did you know that vampire bats have really good eyesight, despite their sucky reputation? They can even make out a cow from over 400 feet away. They also use a handy skill called echolocation, which is when they send out a call that bounces off the objects around them, letting them know how not to bump into things.
Vampire bats can be picky when it comes to choosing their victims. Step down, Bella Swan, we’re not talking about you. White-winged vampire bats are super-ambitious and like to go for birds. Sometimes they pretend to be a chick and nuzzle underneath a chicken until they are sat on, then they sink their teeth into the chicken’s juicy bits. Common vampire bats will mostly go for cows, being better at crawling around on the ground than their relatives, though humans do indeed get feasted on sometimes.
To drink some yummy cow blood, the common vampire bat swoops down to the ground and crawls towards the sleeping cow in a creepy, Japanese horror movie fashion. They use the special in-built heat sensor on their nose to find the bloodiest bit of the cow, then they sink their teeth in. Vampire bats are quick and they’re always ready to bounce back if the animal wakes up, but because they’re so teeny, it’s an unlikely occurrence. If the best bit of the animal is too fluffy for the bat to get a good grip, they will nibble on the fur, giving the cow a haircut and a complete Ty-over. For free! Well, for blood, but they were going to take that anyways, so free haircut guys! This is assuming that there are cows reading this of course, of which I am totally optimistic.
Now, the bat PR people have been on a major misinformation spree, ‘cause along with the bad eyesight libel, there’s the ‘I want to suck your blood’ baloney. Suck? Pfft. Purlease. Bats are gentle, delicate creatures; there is no sucking around here. They do have super sharp teeth to nibble with, thanks to the lack of enamel, (note: this is what happens if you don’t brush your teeth, kids. You turn into a bat. Fact.) but they have the least amount of teeth of all bats. When a vampire bat pierces the skin, it will lap up the blood, like a kitty cat drinking milk. And! AND! Their saliva contains an anticoagulant called Draculin, (after Count Dracula, don’t cha know) which is currently being investigated for use in stroke victims. Vampire bats are therefore modern-day heroes, like fuzzy Mother Teresas.
So the vampire bat will drink, and drink, and drink, and drink some more, until they’ve added almost 60% of their body weight in delicious blood. Nice. Because this is obviously a lot, the bat’s stomach immediately starts absorbing the plasma, which makes its way around the body super speedily. Imagine you have wings and you just drank 60% of your body weight in lemonade. You’re gonna be feeling pretty lazy, right? You’re not gonna wanna do any flying. You just want to have a lie down, watch some Friends re-runs and possibly die. So rather than do that, (even though vampire bats really like Friends) the bat begins to pee within a couple of minutes of starting to drink. The peeing even helps the bat take off, kind of like a Coke and Mentos bottle rocket.
If a bat can’t feed, (perhaps because they double booked and totally can’t get out of this thing that may or may not be painting their nails with cat faces or experimenting with different eyebrow shapes whilst screeching along to Les Mis at the top of their lungs, because even bats appreciate musical theatre) they will beg another bat for some of their food. They will use puppy dog eyes until the other bat feels really bad and gives in, which is lucky, because bats have a crazy fast metabolism, and if they don’t feed every couple of days, they will die. Vampire bats are generally lovely creatures and are not averse to sharing, but woe betide any bat that doesn’t return the favour, because it won’t be forgotten the next time they stay in with an entire season of Game of Thrones and then complain that they’re hungry.
Despite being super sweet and awesome, vampire bats have made a few enemies in life, and those enemies have explosives. 0.5% of vampire bats have rabies and even though their bite doesn’t hurt the animal that they’re feeding from, if they are one of the few bats that has the disease, that is not great news for the cow/chicken/goat/human that they’re feasting on. Farmers whose cows have been infected with rabies have been known to get a bit… upset about it. If a bat is poisoned, that can mean the death of up to half the colony, since bats are into grooming each other and sharing blood and being nice and everything. Farmers have also been known to blow up caves using dynamite, sometimes killing loads of another type of bat in the process.
Now I might sound like a bit of a hippy or whatever, but can’t we all just get along and hold hands and skip into the sunset or something? Or the darkness, since this is about bats. Sorry, bats.