Vampire bats undoubtedly make the list of real-life critters that double as Halloween mascots, but scientists have been unraveling secrets about the social life of vampire bats that reveal a softer side to these amazing, yet widely vilified animals.
It’s well known that vampire bats are highly social and will even share meals with other bats in their colony, but in a recent study researchers show for the first time that vampire bats have exceptionally close social interactions compared to other types of bats.
Vampire bats are often portrayed as elusive creatures of the night that seek only to suck your blood and give you rabies. The truth is, these furry mammals aren’t vampires at all. They don’t actually suck blood and rarely do they feed from humans. Instead, vampire bats lap up blood from a tiny wound they inflict with their razor-sharp teeth. Common vampire bats ensure a painless incision by sharpening their own teeth as the upper teeth scrape against lower ones. After drawing blood, they excrete an anticoagulant to keep the blood flowing as they feed. Typically, vampire bats feed on livestock or chickens, but they will also feed on local wildlife within their habitat rage of Mexico and South America. After feeding, the bat heads back to its colony where things really get interesting.
There are three species of vampire bats, all of which feed exclusively on blood. They need to feed often to survive, but not all bats have the chance to obtain a meal each night. To overcome this problem, vampire bats have evolved a complex social life. Well-fed bats will share blood meals with other bats in their colony through regurgitation.
But vampire bats don’t just share with their next of kin, they’re also eager to share their meal with friends – hardly the behavior of a dreaded creature of the night.
Like other kinds of bats, vampire bats like to groom each other, but until recently it was unknown whether or not the extent of their social grooming was unique. A new study on captive bats compared the amount of time common vampire bats spent grooming each other to four other species of non-vampire bats. The scientists found that indeed vampire bats spent much more time grooming each other than the other bat species. According to the authors, the extra time spent grooming is likely linked to the way in which they share their blood meals with other bats in the colony. By studying the complex social interactions among bats, researchers may be able to find out whether or not behaviors, such as social grooming, evolved in similar ways in very distantly related species like bats and primates.
Much to the disappointment of anyone planning to dress as vampire bat this Halloween, it turns out these animals are more cute, caring and selfless than terrifying. In fact, some bat experts claim vampire bats can be quite tame and friendly to humans.
So, instead of recoiling with fear from these marvels of evolutionary adaptation, we might be able to gain insight into the development of our own social behavior by taking a closer look at them.