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Dinner on the hoof

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

*Species Spotlight: Common Vampire Bat (Desmodus rotundus)

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 or download the zoo’s new iPhone application.)


Jerry Hughs said…
It is indeed a sad sad day that sees the closure of the Nocturnal House.

One of the pleasures of moving to Seattle from southern California is the Woodland Park Zoo bats. The justifiably "World Famous San Diego Zoo" has nothing to compare to this exhibit.

It will be a true tragedy and slap in the face of the voters if the capital funds from the property tax levy are not used to fix the deficiencies in the Nocturnal House building and save this unique exhibit.
We, too, are upset by having to make this decision. As you are well aware, the economic climate around the world is in its worst condition in more than 60 years and unfortunately, non-profits such as the zoo, museums, symphonies, etc. are some fo the first places affected by this situation due to decreased revenue from sales in concessions and reduced donations coming in. We have already slashed budget, reduced an already thin staff and have further cuts to go--in short, we have attempted to sacrifice as much as possible internally before we had to resort to any situation that would affect zoo visitors. However, ballooning health care costs along with the reductions in revenues and donations forced us into hard decisions.

In addition, the Night Exhibit is more than 30 years old and built during a time when the world was less cognizant of it energy use and sustainable building practices. We looked through all the areas of the zoo that had a significant final impact as well as energy resource use and the Night Exhibit was unfortunately the main area that met these criteria. The building, with energy use, staffing and everyone rolled together requires about $300,000 per year to operate. As you can imagine, any exhibit that we would have to close would have great impact on visitors---everyone has a favorite spot and no matter what decision we made, many were sure to be disappointed.

We appreciate your support and feedback and hope that during this time that people understand that we are trying to remain fiscally responsible and stable so that the zoo may continue its exemplary animal care, conservation and educational programs to the best of our abilities.