HomePLANTS & ANIMALSScientists figure out how vampire bats got a taste for blood

Scientists figure out how vampire bats got a taste for blood

Scientists have figured out why vampire bats are the only mammals that can survive on a diet of just blood. They compared the genome of common vampire bats to 26 other bat species. They identified 13 genes that are missing or no longer work in vampire bats. Those gene tweaks helped them adapt to a blood diet rich in iron and protein but with minimal fats or carbohydrates.

The bats live in South and Central America and are basically “living Draculas”. About 3 inches long with a wingspan of 7 inches, the bats bite and then lap up blood from livestock or other animals at night.

Most mammals couldn’t survive on a low-calorie liquid diet of blood. Only three vampire species of the 1,400 kinds of bats can do that. The others eat mostly insects, fruit, nectar, pollen or meat, such as small frogs and fish.

Blood is a terrible food source. It’s totally bizarre and amazing that vampire bats can survive on blood. They are really weird, even among bats.

Some other creatures also have a taste for blood. This includes mosquitoes, bedbugs, leeches and fleas.

The latest work expands upon research by another team that pinpointed three of the 13 gene losses. 

The new paper shows how different vampire bats are from even other closely related bats, which eat nectar and fruit.

Vampire bats can’t go long without a meal, with such a low-calorie diet. Well-fed ones will regurgitate their food to share with a starving neighbor, in a pinch. They seem to keep track of who has helped them in the past. Nothing that vampire bats have complex social relationships.


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