Scientists compared the genomes of common vampire bats to those of 26 other bat species and discovered 13 genes in vampire bats that are either absent or no longer function. Those gene changes allowed them adapt to a blood diet high in iron and protein but low in fats and carbohydrates over time, according to the researchers, who published their findings in the journal Science Advances on Friday.
The bats are “living Draculas” who live in South and Central America, according to co-author Michael Hiller of Germany’s Max Planck Institute.
Bats bite and then lap up blood from livestock or other animals at night, measuring around 3 inches (8 centimeters) long with a wingspan of 7 inches (18 centimeters).
Most mammals wouldn’t be able to survive on a low-calorie liquid blood diet. Only three of the 1,400 different bat species can do this; the others eat insects, fruit, nectar, pollen, or meat, such as tiny frogs and fish.
“Blood is a terrible food supply,” Hannah Kim Frank, a Tulane University bat researcher who was not involved in the study, said. “It’s incredible that vampire bats can subsist on blood—they’re out of this world, even among bats.”
Mosquitoes, bedbugs, leeches, and fleas, among other creatures, have a craving for blood.
The new study builds on previous research that identified three of the 13 gene deletions.
“The new publication demonstrates how distinct vampire bats are from even closely related bats that feed on nectar and fruit,” said Kate Langwig, a bat researcher at Virginia Tech who was not involved in the research.
Vampire bats can’t go long without eating due to their low-calorie diet. In a pinch, well-fed individuals will vomit their meal to feed a hungry neighbor. Hiller noted that vampire bats have complicated social interactions and that they seem to keep track of who has aided them in the past.
“It’s not a family thing,” Frank of Tulane stated. “All they notice is that you’re a good sharer, so I’ll reward you.”
Moritz Blumer et al, Gene losses in the common vampire bat illuminate molecular adaptations to blood feeding, Science Advances (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abm6494
M. Lisandra Zepeda Mendoza et al, Hologenomic adaptations underlying the evolution of sanguivory in the common vampire bat, Nature Ecology & Evolution (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0476-8
Journal information: Science Advances , Nature Ecology & Evolution
This article by Christina Larson was first published by Phys.org on 25 March 2022. Lead Image: This photo provided by Sherri and Brock Fenton/AAAS in March 2022 shows a vampire bat in flight. According to a report published Friday, March 25, 2022 in the journal Science Advances, scientists have figured out why vampire bats are the only mammals that can survive on a diet of only blood. Credit: Sherri and Brock Fenton/AAAS via AP.
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