Peace Crane by Hilary Taylor

Peace Crane by Hilary Taylor
Picture by Justin Wyatt
To read Hilary's story buy this special book...

This magical story has a touch of the supernatural. When an injured crane is found and nursed, something happens, something magical and inspiring...

Gentle Footprints launched- AS SEEN ON TV

Gentle Footprints was officially launched Fri June 4th at the Hay Festival with guest speaker Virginia McKenna and some of the authors

Buy from Bridge House Publishing by clicking on the link BUY:


Virginia McKenna at Hay Launch

Virginia McKenna at Hay Launch

Animal Anthology To Raise Funds for Born Free

Bridge House Publishing announce new book coming Spring 2010. For more about Bridge House please see their website.
This book is the annual charity book for Born Free...if you want to get involved with promoting and selling this book- email me!

Visit the Born Free Website to find out more about their valuable work...

Visit the Born Free Website to find out more about their valuable work...

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The misunderstood Vampire Bat

Oh, dear. It seemed like a good idea at the time - give one another animals to blog about. I blithely threw out an idea of a creature with a bad press thinking it would be fun to see if someone could find something positive to say. Now they've given me the vampire bat. Half of us are vegetarians, for heaven's sake. The things live on blood.

Okay, they can be kind to their neighbours and regurgitate a bit if the neighbour hasn't found a meal that night, and they adopt orphan vampire bats within the colony, but still. All that blood, and they lap up half their body weight of the stuff in one feed.

To put it in context, though, that's only one or two teaspoonsful a night or every other night because they're only three inches long. Or looked at another way, the contents of the veins of a cow every four years. They have razor sharp incisors that they use to shave away a small area of fur or feathers and then make a shallow incision. Because of their solely liquid diet they don't need any more teeth.

They've got round bodies, long pointy ears and a naked snout. They have a wingspan of eight inches. See for yourself and comment at the end as to whether you think they can be called cuties or not.

They have a special sense of temperature to search out more superficial blood vessels. There's an anticoagulant in their saliva that allows them to lap (they don't suck it) for twenty or thirty minutes without the blood clotting. We call it draculin. There's also another chemical that numbs the skin of the animal they're feeding from so they don't wake up and realise what's happening.

There are three types of vampire bat, the common, the white winged and the hairy legged. The two above are white winged, this one's hairy legged:

The other two prey on birds but when they can the common stick to cows, pigs and horses. They've developed a solution to the dilemma of feeding from large land-based animals - they can walk! They have long legs with little fur on and use long thumbs on their wings for walking as if on all fours.

A scientist in the US caught some to study how fast they could walk and found that when he speeded up the treadmill they broke into a run and managed the equivalent of two and a half miles. Unfortunately this was pre-YouTube but this is supposed to give you an idea.These researchers also found the bats could remember the sound of the breathing of their victim and go back to the same animal. "Vampire bats are incredibly intelligent," this Dr Riskin said.

Yeah, it's a pity about the way they make their living but if you've ever stood in Sainsbury's unable to recall the colour of the packet of biscuits you liked so much you'll have a sneaking admiration for that ability.

Contrary to expectation, these creatures are not found in Transylvania but only in Latin America, from northern Mexico down to Argentina. This is what is intriguing because vampire mythology is present in practically all cultures including Ancient Greek and early Hebrew. Word of the bats' existence was only brought back to Europe by the Spanish in 1526, so they're not the source of the old world legends. The conquistadors saw their resemblance to the vampires of folklore, not the other way round.

Most of the myths have it that a vampire can only be created by another vampire. One legend tells that in ancient Greek times a human man called Ambrogio fell for a woman Apollo fancied and was cursed by Apollo so that his skin would burn in sunlight. Later he gets cursed by Apollo's sister Artemis so that his skin would burn if he touched silver. Artemis then felt sorry for him and made him immortal and gave him god-like hunting skills. The blood-sucking link seems to be that Ambrogio shot swans and used their blood to write poems to his love.

Our view was always defined by Bram Stoker following the publication of Dracula in 1897. Based on information he came across on vampire bats he introduced the idea of his vampire transforming into a bat.

However, it's now being shifted again by the present generation of young charismatic beings that are prevalent in modern culture. They're sexually attractive, powerful and immortal so especially fascinating to teenagers. This batch, though, have emotions and a conscience and don't turn into bats.

Meanwhile in deserts, scrubland and rainforest, the real thing continue to hang upside down in caves and tree hollows by day and feed in the darkest part of the night. They live in colonies of a hundred or more, breeding females and their offspring with one male. They are mutual groomers and have strong social bonds. Gestation is six to eight months, females have about one pup a year and they can live up to nine years.

Are they endangered? Not at present. In fact they've done rather well over the last three hundred years with the introduction of domesticated horses, cattle and pigs. So where a lot of rainforest animals have suffered because of the way people have altered their habitats, it's been to their advantage. They are, however, widely blamed for spreading rabies and so farmers look to kill them.

On balance, I think I judged too soon - despite their distasteful way of making a living they don't kill their prey, they're kind to one another, are adaptable and intelligent. Ted Hughes wrote a book about them that I'm afraid we overlooked in our house while we were busy reading Herb the Vegetarian Dragon:

What do you think?

I'd say misunderstood, and pretty amazing.


  1. I think they're gorgeous. I'd have them in my roof, if they left the cats alone....

  2. You might have to get a horse and some chickens, Anne, to convince them to leave the cats alone... So pleased someone else likes them - I didn't know if it was because I had spent time on them that I grew to love them (like the Little Prince and his rose). This is a good exercise in being non-judgemental.


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