The Bat in Nature
Indigenous to Central and South America, vampire bats live in a very strong social culture. The develop bonds with other bats in the colony, and learn to recognize each other through sound and scent. Vampire bats tend to live in caves, trees, or buildings. Their colonies can reach numbers of up to 2000 bats, but most colonies tend to house approximately 100 bats.
Mating season lasts all year for the vampire bat. Like most mammals, their gestation period is similar to that of humans...about 6 to 8 months, and the typical number of offspring is one. Their lifespan is quite long - vampire bats may reach twenty years of age or older.
Average Body Length -- 2 ¾"
Average Wingspan -- 8"
Average Weight -- 1 ounce
There are three main species of vampire bats: Desmodus rotundus, Diaemus youngi, and Diphylla ecaudata. The latter two species feed mainly on vertabrates (birds), but the Desmodus feeds entirely on other mammals.
A vampire bat usually drinks two tablespoons of blood per day, on average. They typically hunt very close to the ground, using heat sensors on the nose to help them locate a vein close to the skin. They use their incisors to bite into the skin, and it may take up to twenty minutes to finish the "meal". Vampire bat saliva has an ingredient that prevents the blood from clotting, as well as an anasthetic to prevent its victim from being irritated by the bite.
The Bat in Folklore
Vampire bats did not appear often in vampire folklore, particularly European folklore, assumedly due to the fact that they were not indigenous to that region. Bats did appear in some Gypsy folklore, but their appearance was usually seen as benevolent, and bat parts or bones were sometimes carried around in a small bag for luck. It wasn't until Western literature embraced the vampire fully that the vampire bat connection came into full bloom.
The Bat in Literature
One of the first tenuous connections between bats and vampires in literature was on the cover of Varney the Vampire. However, bats and vampires did not become truly linked in the minds of those who love them until Bram Stoker's Dracula was released in 1897. This famous novel established the vampire's ability to shape-shift and rule other creatures of the night, such as bats and wolves. (For more info on shape-shifting, see Vampire Physiology) Since the time of Dracula, bats have become a Hollywood favourite, popping up in dozens and dozens of vampire films. From nearly unknown mammal to Halloween standard, this flying mammal's identity shall forevermore be tied to that of the vampire.