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11 Vampire Bat Facts About The Blood-loving Mammals

Step into the mysterious world of vampire bat facts, where we demystify some common misconceptions. Enter the enchanting realm of these nocturnal creatures as we explore their unique feeding habits and shine a light on their noteworthy behaviors.

From their feeding rituals to their nocturnal lifestyle, vampire bats have piqued the curiosity of scientists and enthusiasts alike for centuries. These creatures, known for their blood diet, offer insights into the natural world.

Expand your knowledge of bats by exploring these general bat facts and uncovering the remarkable aspects of these sometimes-maligned mammals

11 Amazing Facts About Vampire Bats

closeup Desmodus rotundus
Photo by Prof. Dr. Marco A. R. Mello on Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from Original)

1. Vampire bats feed exclusively on blood.

Vampire bats are intriguing creatures that belong to the family Desmodontidae. As their name suggests, vampire bats feed primarily on blood.

However, contrary to popular belief, a vampire bat feeding on human blood is rare. They prefer to avoid direct contact with humans and only bite when their usual prey is scarce.

Primarily, they target livestock and other mammals such as cattle, horses, and pigs. However, they can also feed on wild animals like birds and rodents.

In terms of size, vampire bats are relatively small compared to other bat species. They have an average wingspan of about 7 to 8 inches. Their compact body structures are approximately 2 to 3 inches long and as light as around an ounce.

2. There are three species of vampire bats.

smiling bat Desmodus rotundus
Photo by Gerry Carter on Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from Original)

The Common Vampire Bat (Desmodus rotundus) is the most widespread and abundant species among the three.

Next, the Hairy-legged Vampire Bat (Diphylla ecaudata) has dense fur on its legs, extending to its feet. The hairy-legged vampire bat has a longer, more pointed muzzle than the common vampire bat. Its diet consists mainly of the blood of birds, including poultry and wildfowl.

Lastly, White-winged Vampire Bats (Diaemus youngi) are a smaller species than the others. Living in Central and South America, this species has distinctive white patches on its wings, particularly visible in flight.

The white-winged vampire bat feeds primarily on sleeping or roosting individuals. They do not typically feed on mammals, although they may take the opportunity to do so.

Related read: Types of Bats.

3. They can drink blood without waking their prey.

Vampire bats hunt when their prey is sleeping. Moreover, the lifestyle of vampire bats has allowed them to develop specific adaptations. These fantastic bats do not suck blood–instead, they use their sharp teeth to make tiny, gentle cuts in the skins of their prey. They can drink blood without being detected for 30 minutes3.

Contrary to what movies portray, this bite often goes unnoticed because vampire bat saliva contains an anesthetic that numbs the area. Rather than sucking blood, the vampire bat delicately laps up the blood from the wound using its sharp teeth and a long, grooved tongue. 

Furthermore, they have developed the skill to walk, run, and hop on the ground to feed stealthily. Their strong hind legs allow the well-fed bats to fly off quickly after eating.

4. They have echolocation and heat sensors to locate their prey.

vampire bat flying
Photo by Uwe Schmidt on Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from Original)

Like other bats - the only mammals that can fly - vampire bats use echolocation to navigate and locate prey in the dark. They emit high-frequency sound waves that bounce off objects and return as echoes, creating a detailed map of their surroundings. By adjusting the pitch and volume of their sounds, they can approach prey without startling them.

Furthermore, they have heat sensors on their noses, known as "noseleafs," to locate areas on their prey's body with thinner skin, where blood flow is more accessible. These heat sensors help vampire bats target suitable blood vessels for feeding precisely.

5. They prefer specific habitats.

One of the crucial habitat requirements for vampire bats is access to a stable source of blood. Since blood is their primary and essential source of nutrition, the availability of suitable hosts determines their habitat.

Vampire bats roost in places near their food sources, reducing the time and energy needed to fly between their roosts and feeding grounds. Vampire bats emerge from caves, tree hollows, and artificial structures like abandoned buildings or tunnels.

6. Female vampire bats are polyandrous.

These roosting bats socialize in harems, consisting of multiple adult males and females. Adult males often engage in vocalizations, wing flapping, and other displays to attract the attention of females. These courtship behaviors communicate reproductive readiness and establish pair bonds.

One exciting aspect of vampire-bat mating is sperm competition. Female vampire bats are polyandrous, meaning they mate with multiple males within the colony. This behavior leads to competition among different males2.

Female bats have control over mate selection. They may choose their preferred male based on genetic quality, social status, or previous interactions.

7. Females give birth to one offspring at a time.

two vampire bats
Photo by Uwe Schmidt on Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from Original)

Female vampire bats give birth to only one pup at a time. They also invest much energy with a few adult males to ensure their offspring's survival.

During the early stages of their lives, the pups depend entirely on their mother's milk for sustenance. As they grow, they gradually transition to consuming solid food, starting with small amounts of regurgitated blood from the adult bats in the colony.

While the mother forages for blood, she leaves her pup in a nursery or roosting sites, often with other adult females and their offspring. This communal care system ensures that the young bats receive care and protection from multiple individuals within the colony.

8. They share food with their kin.

Vampire bats form stable colonies of several hundred closely related females and their offspring. Males may also reside in separate groups within the same territory or join different groups temporarily during the mating season.

One of the most remarkable aspects of vampire bat social behavior is reciprocal altruism. When these bats can't find blood within two days, they die. That's why they engage in food-sharing behaviors, known as "reciprocal feeding," where they regurgitate blood to share with others.

9. They live up to 10-20 years in the wild.

These animals' life spans vary depending on species, environment, and individual circumstances. On average, vampire bats live up to 10-20 years in the wild, although some individuals have lived longer.

In captivity, where they can access consistent food sources and medical care, vampire bats can live into their late 20s and early 30s.

We have benefited from these species. The following vampire bat fact discusses how.

10. The vampire bat's saliva contains a substance called draculin.

vampire bat front
Photo by Uwe Schmidt on Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from Original)

Vampire bats also have made significant contributions to medicine and pharmacology. Their saliva has led to valuable discoveries that have potential applications in human health.

Vampire bat spit contains draculin, which stops the blood from clotting by inhibiting platelet aggregation in flowing blood and clot formation in blood vessels. Scientists have studied the anticoagulant properties of common vampire bats and bat saliva to develop medications and treatments for stroke, heart attacks, and blood clotting disorders.

11. They are considered as species of least concern.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the common vampire bat as a species of "Least Concern." This conservation status indicates they are not facing an immediate risk of extinction.

However, it's important to note that the conservation status of vampire bats may vary in specific regions or local populations. Habitat loss, human persecution, disease outbreaks, and changes in prey availability can affect the population dynamics of vampire bats in certain areas.

In some cases, vampire bats undergo control measures or management practices due to their association with diseases like rabies that can affect livestock and humans1. However, vampire bat populations remain relatively stable and are not considered globally endangered.

Remember to share these vampire bat facts on social media to debunk misconceptions about these bat species.

Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some other animals starting with V.

By Chinny Verana, BSc.

Chinny Verana is a degree-qualified marine biologist and researcher passionate about nature and conservation. Her expertise allows her to deeply understand the intricate relationships between marine life and their habitats.

Her unwavering love for the environment fuels her mission to create valuable content for TRVST, ensuring that readers are enlightened about the importance of biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation efforts.

Fact Checked By:
Mike Gomez, BA.

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