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Bat Breath Reveals The Identity Of A Vampire's Last Victim

Date:
August 19, 2007
Source:
Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research
Summary:
Farmers are observing vampire bats satisfying their need for blood by attacking cattle instead of wild mammals. To document this change in behaviour, scientists analysed the stable carbon isotope ratio of exhaled carbon dioxide in vampire bats.
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Vampire bat.
Credit: Image courtesy of Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research

Vampire bats that live in Latin America have switched to blood meals from cattle instead of from rainforest mammals, ecological physiologists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin, the Freie Universität Berlin, the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and the University of Aberdeen report in the Journal of Comparative Physiology B. They say that the conversion of rainforests ecosystems into livestock producing farmland resulted in the expansion of vampire bat populations in Latin America.

Farmers are observing vampire bats satisfying their need for blood by attacking cattle instead of wild mammals. To document this change in behaviour, Dr Christian Voigt and colleagues analysed the stable carbon isotope ratio of exhaled CO2 in vampire bats.

They fed captive vampires blood that was labelled with the stable (non-radioactive) isotope carbon-13 and then monitored the time period between the blood meal and the appearance of labelled carbon atoms in the exhaled breath. “Vampire bats used the freshly ingested blood very fast to fuel their metabolism; after less than an hour the stable carbon isotope signature of the vampires’ exhaled breath was similar to that of their latest diet” Dr Voigt states.

Then the researchers collected breath of free-ranging vampire bats in Costa Rica and analysed its stable carbon isotope signature. “The potential victims of vampires in Costa Rica are either cattle or rainforest mammals such as tapirs and peccaries. These two groups of animals feed on isotopically distinct plants which are grasses in the case of cattle and herbs or shrubs in the case of rainforest mammals. Therefore, we expected that the stable carbon isotope signature in bat breath would change according to their diet” Dr Voigt continues. The vampires’ breath clearly indicated that their last blood meal almost always originated from cattle, although rainforest mammals were also present.

The authors argue that the vampire bats do not necessarily prefer cattle blood, but that cattle are much easier to find for vampires than rainforest mammals. Cattle are held fenced-in on open pastures, whereas rainforest mammals roam in dense vegetation. Converting rainforests into pasture has a large impact on many native mammals of Latin America, usually not to the benefit of the original mammal fauna.

Vampire bats live only in Central and South America and weigh 30 - 40 g. Vampires share food among unrelated group members, a behaviour known as reciprocal altruism, which vampire bats have in common with humans.

Reference: C C Voigt, P Grasse, K Rex, S K Hetz and J R Speakman (2007). Bat breath reveals metabolic substrate use in free-ranging vampires. Journal of Comparative Physiology B, DOI : 10.1007/s00360-007-0194-z is published online on 16 August 2007.


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The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


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Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. "Bat Breath Reveals The Identity Of A Vampire's Last Victim." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 August 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070818110448.htm>.
Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. (2007, August 19). Bat Breath Reveals The Identity Of A Vampire's Last Victim. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 6, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070818110448.htm
Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. "Bat Breath Reveals The Identity Of A Vampire's Last Victim." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070818110448.htm (accessed July 6, 2015).

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