For these vampires, a shared blood meal lets ‘friendship’ take flight
Vampire bats might have a nasty reputation because of the way they ruthlessly drink their victims’ blood, but these bloodthirsty beasts can be both generous and loyal when it comes to their fellow bats.
Captive common vampire bats will share their food with hungry bat companions, and forge such a bond that they continue to hang out with these buddies once they’re released back to the wild, according to a newly published study in the journal Current Biology.
Bats are very maligned, and vampire bats are the most maligned of the bats
Common vampire bats don’t actually suck the blood of their victims, which are usually livestock like horses or cows. Instead, the bats make little cuts with their razor-sharp incisors and lap at the bleeding wounds.
Bats need to lap up about a tablespoon of blood every night. If they miss two nights, these small bats get very weak, and missing three nights might mean death.
A desperate vampire bat, however, can find help in its home roost, where neighbors who did manage to drink blood are often willing to share food by regurgitating some of their last blood meal.
How vampire bats make friends
Vampire bats aren’t so different from humans in some ways. These long-lived and extremely social bats form close social relationships – bonds that in humans, we’d call friendships. However, vampire bat friendships are characterized by mutual tongue baths and regurgitated blood.
Research shows how these friendships form?
To observe how new food-sharing relationships form between adult vampire bats, the researchers captured female bats from two distant sites in Panama and divided them into different sized groups.
In each group, the researchers alternated which bats weren’t given any food and watched how it interacted with its mates. Several bats, especially those in pairs, began testing the waters by grooming each other more over time, which led to sharing blood, or food, with their hungry companions.
Grooming each other is helpful. They may be ridding them of parasites or helping them stay clean and that is certainly beneficial and not very costly to the donor.
Helping each other to survive
The ability of vampire bats to go from strangers to feeding each other could create years-long bonds that help them to survive.
These vampire bats would choke on a mosquito. Vampire bats can only feed on blood, which isn’t always easy to find. By sharing, they greatly up the odds overall of the group’s survival.
In addition to the good vampire bats can do for each other, understanding how similar their relationship formation is to humans’ may be a boon to bat conservation by helping people relate better to bats.
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Video resource: WATOP