A species of vampire bat that was thought to feed only on birds has developed a taste for human blood, according to a report published recently in the journal Acta Chiropterologica. The discovery raises some major health concerns, as the bats are known to carry rabies.
Three different species of vampire bat are known to rely exclusively on blood for their diet. Of these, Desmodus rotundus and Diaemus youngi are considered to be relatively unfussy eaters, and will slurp from the veins of many different types of animal. Diphylla ecaudata, on the other hand, has a rather more particular palate, and had until now been thought to feed only on the fat-laden blood of wild birds, while shunning protein-rich mammalian blood.
Yet when researchers analyzed the DNA in the poop of D. ecaudata in Catimbau National Park in northern Brazil, they discovered human blood in three of their 15 samples. Not only is this the first time that the bats have been found to be feeding on people, but it curiously contradicts previous studies that suggested the bats would rather starve than drink the blood of mammals.
In one study, the creatures continually refused the blood of cattle when offered it in the absence of any birds to feed on, with some even starving to death.
The results of this research indicate that the bats are in fact more versatile in their feeding capabilities than previously thought, while also highlighting the impact that human encroachment is having on the animals’ habitat.
With the number of settlements in the park having increased in recent years, deforestation and hunting is destroying wild bird populations. In response, the bats are having to seek out alternative food sources, and are thought to be feeding mainly on people sleeping outside in hammocks, while also sneaking into open windows to bite people in their beds – just like real vampires.