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How the bloodsuckers do it: specialized system support sanguinary lifestyle

In Science, Vampires on 4 August, 2011 at 12:43 pm

The human cardiovascular system is reasonably well-known and well-documented. It has been for generations. But what about before that? Ever wonder how vampires knew where to bite? A new study published in the journal Nature just might answer that.

vampire bat

Desmodus rotundus or the common vampire bat

Of course, the study explored the blood seeking behaviors of vampire bats, rather than vampires themselves. It seems vampire bats, at least, have developed some very specialized systems in order to support their sanguinary diet. According to the study, the most significant adaptation is the ability to detect hotspots or places where blood vessels are near to the surface or just below the skin of warm-blooded creatures using infrared radiation.  More precisely, vampire bats have fine tuned an existing thermosensitive channel in their face so that is detects lower the lower temperatures associated with mammal blood at a distance of roughly 20 centimeters or less.

Discover magazine’s Not exactly rocket science blog explains it this way:

The bats have three leaf-shaped pits around their nose that are riddled with unusually large nerves, like those found in the pits of heat-seeking snakes. If they detect anything over 29 C, they fire. The pits and the large nerves are a vampire speciality – the silky short-tailed bat, a closely related fruit-eating species, has neither.

Both vampire bats and vampires exist on a sanguinary diet, feeding exclusively on the blood of other animals. Unlike their formerly human cousins, however, Desmodus rotundus, Diphylla ecaudata and Diaemus youngi (otherwise known as the common, hairy-legged and white-winged vampire bats) are indigenous to and only found in the Americas. And while both the common vampire and the common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus) favor feeding from mammals, vampires, with few exceptions, prefer humans while their winged relatives go for cows and horses. That being said, humans living between Mexico and Argentina do occasionally make the menu for all three vampire bat species as well as that of vampires.

It is unknown whether vampires have a similar ability. Given their heightened senses, it is not an impossibility. If they do, they aren’t revealing it to human scientists.

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