A blood-sucking bat that usually looks to birds for its food seems to be adding human blood to its diet, according to a team of scientists in Brazil.
In an article published in the journal Acta Chiropterologica, researchers in the country have documented for the first time the presence of human blood in the feces of the hairy-legged vampire bat (Diphylla ecaudata).
D. ecaudata is one of just three bat species that live like vampires – depending solely on blood for their food. (Desmodus rotundus and Diaemus youngi are the others.) The short-snouted bat lives in South and Central American forests as well as the southern portions of Mexico.
The bats studied came from dry forests in northeastern Brazil, and their penchant for human blood was a surprise, study co-author Enrico Bernard told New Scientist: “This species isn’t adapted to feed on the blood of mammals.”
Indeed the animal was thought to dine exclusively on birds and was considered to have the most specialized diet of the three vampire species. However, “our results suggest that the diet of D. ecaudata is more flexible than expected,” the researchers wrote.
The prospect of humans now being dined on by the bat could be a worrisome prospect. The animal can potentially transmit rabies to humans, and Brazil has a history of vampire bat attacks.
In the end, the addition of people’s blood to the mix may be out of simple necessity.
“The record of humans as prey and the absence of blood from native species may reflect a low availability of wild birds in the study site, reinforcing the impact of human activities on local ecological processes,” the researchers wrote.
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