Something New to Worry About: Vampire Bats

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Well, if you live in the Amazonian regions of Peru, it's something to worry about. Peruvians are quite worried, and with good reason: in past weeks, four people have died from vampire bat attacks -- not from blood loss, but from a peculiar form of rabies that the bats carry known as "dumb rabies," which paralyzes its victims rather than turning them into foaming-at-the-mouth psychotics.

So why are the bats suddenly a problem? It's thought to be a combination of factors: first and foremost, deforestation of the Amazon is forcing the bats out of their traditional habitats, and secondly, the spread of farming and livestock-raising into rainforest-adjacent areas is giving the bats a new and easy-to-feed-upon source of food -- cows. So the bats are moving into peopled areas and multiplying at the same time, a bad combination. When I heard this strange bit of news, I decided to learn a bit more about vampire bats. Here are a few of the most interesting factoids I happened upon:

"¢ Their saliva contains a substance that prevents their prey's blood from clotting, aptly named draculin.

"¢ The inferior colliculus, part of the bat's brain that processes sound, detects the regular breathing sounds of sleeping animals, their main food source.

"¢ A vampire bat's upper incisors lack enamel, which keeps them razor sharp permanently.

"¢ Socially, vampire bats are an unusually altruistic species. They cannot go more than about two days without a meal of blood, and because food sources are sometimes rare, lucky bats are known to share food with unluckier ones by regurgitating portions of past meals into the mouths of other bats, mouth-to-mouth, in an activity that strongly resembles kissing.

Less informatively, but perhaps more entertainingly, this song has been stuck in my head all day.

August 16, 2010 - 3:00am
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