Vampires have fascinated us since the Middle Ages, when a hysteria of vampire sightings spread across Eastern Europe. We now know that many of these “vampires” were actually victims of diseases like tuberculosis or bubonic plague that cause bleeding in the lungs (and elsewhere), resulting in the disturbing effect of blood appearing at the lips. Add this attribute to the already poorly understood physiology of decomposing corpses and the cases in which people mistakenly buried alive got up and left their graves, and voila! Vampire mythology is born. So vampires don’t really exist… Or do they?
Actually, there are many animals that feed on blood. So many in fact, that there is a scientific term for blood-eating, hematophagy. And why not? Blood is fluid tissue, chock full of nutritious proteins and lipids and a source of water to boot. And if you don’t kill your prey to feed, the food supply replenishes itself. Here are just some of these animal vampires living among us:
|A vampire bat smiles for the camera |
from his Peruvian cave. Photo from Wikimedia.
The Galapagos Islands are the famous home to numerous finch species, each one with a beak shape specially adapted to their preferred food source. For most of these finches, their food of choice is a type of seed or nut that is appropriately sized for their beak shape and strength. But the vampire finch (also called the sharp-beaked ground finch for obvious reasons) uses its long sharp beak to feed on blood. Their most common victims are their booby neighbors (named for less obvious reasons).
|A tiny candirú catfish (being measured in cm) strikes |
terror into the souls of Amazonian fishermen.
Photo by Dr. Peter Henderson at PISCES
Conservation LTD. Photo at Wikimedia.
|Notice the sharp-toothed sucker mouth of the river |
lamprey. Photo by M. Buschmann at Wikimedia.
|A European medicinal leech. |
Photo by H. Krisp at Wikimedia.
|A female mosquito getting her blood meal. |
Photo by at Wikimedia.
There are many other examples of animals that feed on blood. But unlike their mythological counterparts, none of them come back from the dead to do so… Or do they?
Want to know more? Check these out:
1. SCHLUTER, D., & GRANT, P.R. (1984). ECOLOGICAL CORRELATES OF MORPHOLOGICAL EVOLUTION IN A DARWINS FINCH, GEOSPIZA-DIFFICILIS EVOLUTION, 38 (4), 856-869
2. Francischetti, I. (2010). Platelet aggregation inhibitors from hematophagous animals Toxicon, 56 (7), 1130-1144 DOI: 10.1016/j.toxicon.2009.12.003