6 Reasons You Should Be Totally Into Vampire Bats
The humble vampire bat doesn't always have the best rep, often portrayed as a bloodsucking, vicious menace - the stuff of horror movies and haunted houses. In reality, though, these little guys are pretty fascinating - and not nearly as frightening as you might think!
1. They're much smaller than in the movies, and they really don't want to suck your blood!
First of all, there are three species of vampire bats, and only one of them feeds on mammals: the common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus). However, even this bat doesn't enjoy or seek out preying on humans - their fine dining meal of choice is the domestic cow. Vampire bats also never take enough blood to kill their prey... let alone turn them into creatures of the night.
And don't believe what that old horror flick might show you, either. Real vampire bats are not big terrifying monsters- they're itty bitty (and sometimes even adorable!) animals, only about 3.5 inches long and weighing only two ounces.
2. They've got some sweet moves.
While they have wings and can fly, common vampire bats also have impressively strong arms and legs and often travel on the ground, hopping, deftly crawling sideways or jumping.
3. They're all about strong female friendships.
Vampire bats have rich, nurturing social lives, and it's all about the ladies. Specifically, they're known for their complex, female-centric cooperative social bonds, not unlike some other intelligent mammals such as some primates, elephants and dolphins. Vampire bats have long lives (they can live up to 19 years) and they maintain long-term relationships in the process. Female BFF bats will bond with each other for years (even if they're not in the same family), grooming each other and sharing food with each other whenever one of them misses a meal. Understanding how and why vampire bats form these cooperative bonds may help scientists understand how cooperation works in primates and other animals, too.
4. They're super brainy.
Although they're small, vampire bats have large brains for their body size compared to other bats. And in particular, they have a relatively giant neocortex (twice as big as other bats), the part of the brain associated with complex social bonds. (Another animal with a big ol' neocortex? Humans!)
5. They have incredibly fine-tuned senses (and a totally adorable little nose).
Like other bats, vampire bats have highly developed hearing, but they don't rely solely on echolocation (i.e., using sounds to "see") to locate their prey. That's because they also have a good nose for smell, excellent eyesight, and the remarkable ability to detect infrared radiation. In other words, they can detect heat with their wrinkly faces to find warm-blooded animals nearby.
5. They could save someone from a stroke someday.
Scientists are trying to recreate a compound that's found in vampire bat saliva (delightfully named Draculin), because its unique anticoagulant properties could be the difference between life and death for a stroke patient.
6. There's no good reason to exterminate vampire bats, and lots of reasons not to!
Vampire bats have found themselves the victims of widespread extermination efforts due to fears that growth in bat populations will increase the spread of rabies, a fatal disease to both humans and livestock. While vampire bats can spread disease through their bites, only 0.5 percent of bats carry rabies, and the size of a bat colony doesn't predict its rate of carrying the disease. (Culling a colony could actually even end up increasing its disease rate.)
Plus, poisoning or using explosives to destroy bat colonies doesn't just hurt vampire bats - it hurts other kinds of bats, too, many of which are extremely helpful to farmers because they eat insects (not to mention being a vital part of their ecosystems in general.) Finally, vampire bats might have actually helped some humans in Peru become immune to rabies... suggesting that we still have more to learn about the best way to control this disease.
For more on why bats are awesome and to learn how you can support conservation efforts, check out Bat Conservation International.