Wild vampire bats have been caught feeding on people for the first time

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Wild vampire bats that were thought to exclusively feed on bird blood are actually sucking blood from humans too. They have been caught doing it at night.

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Enrico Bernard from the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, and his team analysed 70 samples from a colony of hairy-legged vampire bats, D. ecaudata, living in Catimbau National Park in north-east Brazil. They found that three samples out of the 15 they managed to get DNA from had traces of blood from humans, New Scientist reports.

“This species isn’t adapted to feed on the blood of mammals.” Bernard claims.

The bats usually chase large birds at night time, sucking a spoonful of blood from a single animal as a
meal.

According to scientists, they are adapted to process fat, the main component of bird blood, not the thicker, high-protein blood of mammals. This theory is based on previous experiments that showed that when only pig and goat blood was available, many bats opted for starving to death.

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But human encroachment may be driving the species to try new blood, new theory says. In the park in Brazil now live several human families. Due to deforestation and hunting, the bat’s usual prey, such as guans and tinamous, are disappearing.

The species’ new habits are a concern since it could spread disease. Vampire bats are a major transmitter of rabies, and there are often outbreaks in Brazil, scientists warn.

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