Natures Real Vampires
Dracula's Got Nothing Compared To These Real Bloodsuckers
Real blood sucking vampires, that classic iconic symbol of Halloween, live among us. No they are not suave, charismatic villains or supernatural ghoulish entities, they are real life animals found, perhaps in your very own backyard.
Certain animals, known as hermatotrophs, feed on blood. Blood is a nutrient rich fluid and can be taken with minimal effort on the part of the blood sucking vampire - like animal. Most of these animals are small, worms and various species of arthropods, but some, like the vampire bat are mammals.
This Halloween learn about the real vampires among us.For more about this photo and the vampire squid, click here
The Vampire Bat
Three species of bat - the Common Vampire Bat, the Hairy-legged Vampire Bat and the White Winged Vampire Bat are the only species of bats that feed solely on blood. All three can be found in the Americas.
All three species vary in physical appearance but share a few common characteristics. They generally have a short tail membrane, very small ears, a specialized teeth adapted for cutting and a digestive system adapted for their liquid diet. Vampire bats saliva also contains a special substance called draculin which prevents its prey's blood from clotting, therefore enabling the blood to continue to flow as they lap it up while feeding. Inside the vampire bats brain, they have a well developed sound processing center which can detect the regular breathing sounds of the sleeping animals they use as food sources.
Since a vampire bat can only survive two days without a meal of blood and they cannot necessarily find food every day, they often share food with each other. One bat may regurgitate a small amount of blood to help sustain another member of the colony. This is an example of reciprocal altruism in nature. Vampire share close family bonds and will even adopt the young of other individuals who have lost a parent.The super cool photo you see here as well as lots of interesting information about the vampire bat can be found at The Ever So Strange Animal Almanac
This Halloween, Bring The Vampire Bat Home For The Kids
Using a horror style approach to teach about nature, this wonderful book is an excellent resource for children in grades 2-4. It provides an introduction to small beasts such as the vampire bat that humans either fear or find disgusting
Blood Sucking Leeches
The blood sucking Haemophagic leech is a parasite. Like all parasitic relationships, the host is harmed as the parasite (leech) benefits from the relationship. Classified as an annelid or segmented worm, the leech is related to the common earthworm and can be found in many of the same ecosystems that earthworm resides in. Shallow ponds, lakes and marshes are its preferred habitat as it is aquatic although some leeches are amphibious and some are land dwelling.
Like the vampire bat, the blood feeding leech releases an anesthetic to prevent the host from feeling the leech as it feeds. It attaches to the host with a sucker formed from the first six segments of its body and then uses a combination of mucus and suction to stay attached while it secretes an anti-clotting enzyme, called hirudin into the host's blood stream.
An interesting fact about leeches is that they are hermaphrodites, and each one of them has both female and male reproductive organs. Reproduction occurs through reciprocal fertilization. Also interesting to note is that leeches have been used in medicine dating as far back as 2,500 years ago and are still used today.Image and interesting article about the leech can be found here
Blood Sucking Insects
Of course the mosquito comes to mind when one thinks about blood sucking insects. Male mosquitoes feed on nectar and plant juices while the female mosquito feeds on blood. She needs this nutrient rich blood in order to produce eggs. There are about 3,500 species of mosquitoes found throughout the world and in some places mosquitoes that feed on humans can be vectors for disease transmission. The female mosquito will detect its intended victim by detecting carbon dioxide CO2 from a distance.
Bed bugs are another insect that feed mainly on blood, mostly the blood of humans. Like other 'vampire' animals, they secrete a substance into the wound to prevent coagulation. They also feed at night when their victims lie sleeping. During the day, bed bugs hide in cracks and crevices, wall outlets, behind baseboards, wallpaper and pictures, between bed joints and slats, along the seams of mattresses and in bed linens. Because of this and their small size, they are hard to locate and hard to eradicate. Thankfully, they do not transmit any human pathogen, they just red, swollen and itchy skin.
Members of the arachnid family, ticks are another tiny blood sucking insect that plaques humans and other animal populations. To feed, A tick will insert its cutting mandibles into a host and then insert its feeding tube into the skin. The feeding tube is covered with recurved teeth and will anchor the tick in place. Ticks will seek a host by heat emitted or carbon dioxide respired.