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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Species Fact Profile: Vampire Bat (Desmodus rotundus)

(Common) Vampire Bat
Desmodus rotundus (Geoffroy, 1810)

Range: Central and South America (Mexico through Argentina)
Habitat: Rainforests, Grasslands, Deserts
Diet: Blood
Social Grouping: Colonies in the tens or hundreds
Reproduction: Males defend roost territories from other males and may mate with multiple females, year round (though most young are born in April-May and October-November).  Females generally breed once per year, sometimes twice.  Single young (occasionally twins) born after 7 month gestation period.  Full grown and independent at 5 months of age.
Lifespan: 12 Years (Wild), 20 Years (Captivity)
Conservation Status: IUCN Least Concern

  • Body length 7-9 centimeters, wingspan 35-40 centimeters, weight 15-50 grams.  Females are usually larger than males
  • Gray-brown fur, lighter on the underside than the back.  The muzzle is compact, the ears pointed
  • Primarily nocturnal, spending the day roosting in caves, mines, tree hollows, and abandoned buildings
  • Possess good eyesight, but have only modest echolocation abilities compared to other bats
  • Unlike other bats, vampire bats are skilled at moving on the ground, stalking and creeping up on sleeping prey; they can walk and run using their folded up wings as crutches
  • Vampire bats have heat sensors on the nose to help them identify good locations to draw blood from
  • Blood is drawn from (usually sleeping) prey with a quick bite, creating an incision that blood flows from.  The bat keeps the wound open with an anticoagulant in the saliva (zoo specimens can be fed blood in petri dishes)
  • Highly social, they have been seen grooming each other and exchanging blood by regurgitating for one another; also regurgitate-feed their offspring
  • Populations of vampire bat have expanded in their home range since Europeans introduced domestic livestock, creating an abundant new source of food.  While their bites are painless, vampire bats can spread infections and diseases (including rabies) as they feed
  • Properties of the saliva (especially anticoagulants) are being studied for medical applications to humans

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