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Desert Diary


Vampires ply the night skies. Not the vampires of Dracula fame, but the real thing—bats that feed on blood—a food that stirs the imagination beyond any other kind.

Vampire bats are exclusively New World creatures, and there are only three kinds known. The widely known one is the Common Vampire Bat, Desmodus rotundus. Cool temperatures limit its distribution to the warmer parts of Mexico and regions to the south, but a close relative occurred north into New Mexico and the Big Bend during the Ice Age.

Feeding mostly on large herbivores such as cattle and horses, it occasionally will dine on human blood. Lighting on its victim, it cuts a shallow groove in the skin with razor-sharp incisors. As the blood is gathered with the tongue, chemicals prevent clotting, allowing the animal to drink its fill. Liquid parts are rapidly discarded as urine, lightening the load for the flight back to the roost.

Evil? No more so than we with our hamburgers and barbecued chickens. And at least they almost always leave their prey alive.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.