Forget Dracula—the common vampire bat stealthily feeds on the blood of mammals, and sometimes domesticated birds.
Let’s set the scene…
Flying about 3 feet off the ground, the bat uses its sharp sense of smell and echolocation to find a “victim.” This bat is lucky—there’s a sleeping cow right ahead!
So as not to alert the cow, the bat lands on the ground and easily crawls or hops to its snoozing dinner, using its thumbs, forearms and wings. It lightly climbs onto the cow and uses heat sensors in its nose to find where blood is near the skin’s surface. The bat licks the site clean with its tongue and then trims the cow’s hair with its teeth. It then painlessly cuts through the skin and injects saliva containing a chemical to prevent blood clots. The bat then laps oozing blood with its tongue. The bat soon becomes engorged with blood and is too heavy to fly away. It crawls off the cow and moves along the ground to a safe place while digestion lightens its heavy load.
The bats you spot out here in the Pacific Northwest are not vampire bats; their wild range keeps them to northern Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and the islands of Trinidad and Margarita off the coast of Venezuela. But if you want to see vampire bats up close, come check them out at the zoo’s popular Night Exhibit, which also features species of fruit bats.
(*Adapted from our Animal Fact Sheets. For a full list of Animal Fact Sheets, go to www.zoo.org/animal-facts or download the zoo’s new iPhone application.)