Life Sucks: 10 Amazing Animal Vampires
“I vant to suck your blood!” Take a number, Dracula. In fact, the toast of Transylvania is a latecomer to the party – animals have been deriving nourishment from blood long before Bram Stoker, Bela Lugosi or Twilight made the scene. These 10 amazing bloodsucking animal vampires have made sanguinary slurping their cocktail of choice… and hold the vodka, salt and tomato juice!
The most common bloodsucking animal, mosquitoes can be found almost anywhere in the world where standing water and blood-bearing animals co-exist. Not every one of the estimated 3,500 species of mosquito feed on human beings but those who do often spread chronic, deadly diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever and West Nile virus, just to name a few.
(image via: National Geographic)
Popular wisdom states that male mosquitoes drink plant juices while only the females seek out and drink blood. Actually, female mosquitoes also derive sugars and other nutrients from plants, but they require a meal of blood before they can produce and lay their eggs. Nature, you scary!
Biologists caution that eliminating all mosquitoes from the environment would cause a disastrous disruption of the food chain – below humans, that is. There is hope, however, in the form of Toxorhynchites. Also known as Mosquito Hawks or Mosquito Eaters, Toxorhynchites are the largest known species of mosquito and, thankfully, they don’t suck blood. Instead, their larvae prey on other mosquito larva thus reducing the number of blood-sucking adults in any common area. Some disease researchers have suggested we roll out the red carpet, er, welcome mat for Toxorhynchites. Then again, messing with nature gave us Killer Bees.
“Sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite!” Once the subject of an arcane and archaic folk saying, bedbugs have returned with a vengeance. Hitching rides with air travelers and setting up shop in hotels, taxicabs and even waiting room sofas, bedbugs have exploded into an unexpected and unappealing global scourge. Active by night and utilizing a natural anesthetic in their saliva, bedbugs themselves are rarely seen. Instead, they leave their victims with telltale bite marks and often a profound sense of mental anguish and unease. Bring back DDT? In the case of bedbugs it just might be worth it.
Even Howard Stern has been affected by the bedbug blow-up – the germaphobic radio shock jock had to evacuate his broadcast studios and even his limousine so they could be fumigated following the discovery of bedbugs. (Word to Dave Letterman, better get that comfy guest chair checked out STAT!). One hopes the verminous varmints didn’t do any damage to Stern’s, ahem, Private Parts.
Blood-sucking spiders?? Good thing there aren’t… oh wait, Ticks are classified as arachnids so let the screaming begin! Ticks are believed to have originated in the Cretaceous period alongside the last dinosaurs, eventually specializing into distinct variants known today as Deer Ticks, Dog Ticks and Sheep Ticks among others. Ticks are rather revolting on a number of levels, with the exception of The Tick, starring Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld’s Puddy)… he’s kinda cool, for a tick.
Ticks in their newborn, six-legged stage are known as Seed Ticks but don’t let their youth deceive you: up to 30,000 Seed Ticks can infest domestic dogs or cats in sudden, mass attacks that can leave their victims at risk of death from rapid blood loss. Sort of like the Spider Scene in the Forbidden Forest from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, domestic pet version.
(image via: Horse Whispers)
Though ticks can spread a host of unpleasant illnesses including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease and the frighteningly named Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, unlucky Australians have to deal with the Paralysis Tick (Ixodes holocyclus), shown above before and after feeding – yikes!! Bites from this particular tick have been known to cause extreme allergic reactions, “Tick Typhus” and whole-body paralysis. And here you thought the most dangerous thing to come from Australia was Mel Gibson.
Kissing Bugs isn’t the prelude to inter-species insect sex, but a blood-sucking group of Triatomine insects also known as Conenose Bugs or Assassin Bugs. They derive their “friendly” name from their decidedly unfriendly modus of operations: biting people on thin-skinned parts of the face such as the lips and eyelids. The bites are painless, even though the bugs are rather large and can drink a copious amount of blood at a single feeding. Kissing Bugs give as well as receive: they can spread debilitating illnesses such as Chagas Disease with their bites.
Charles Darwin was one of the first to describe the feeding habits of Kissing Bugs, having become a victim in 1835 while traveling through Argentina. To quote from “The Voyage of the Beagle”, Darwin’s journal of discoveries made in South America and the Galapagos Islands, “At night I experienced an attack (for it deserves no less a name) of the Benchuca, a species of Reduvius, the great black bug of the Pampas. It is most disgusting to feel soft wingless insects, about an inch long, crawling over one’s body.” On the bright side, an ingenious pilot project at the London Zoo employs Kissing Bugs to take blood samples from zoo animals. The natural anesthetic in the Kissing Bug’s saliva ensures the sampling is virtually stress-free for the animals (though likely not, later, for the Kissing Bugs).
Mothra lives! Moths of the genus Calyptra have evolved the ability to not only drink the blood of vertebrates, but to actively acquire it by biting their victims. It is thought that originally the ancestors of these moths drank fruit juices by piercing the skin of fruit with a straw-like, pointed proboscis. From there it was but a small step to biting mammals, thereby tapping a much more potent source of nutrients. Vampire Moths appear to be expanding their range into more northerly areas due to the ongoing gradual moderation of average temperatures – in other words, Global Warming. Bet you’ll take those shrill enviro-loonies a bit more seriously now, amiright?
Unlike mosquitoes, in Vampire Moths it’s the males that do the blood-sucking while the females stick to plant juices and nectar. By the way, if the idea of a blood-sucking moth isn’t off-putting enough, consider that a related species of Calyptra moths drink the tears from the eyes of birds, cattle, buffalo, and sometimes people as a method of acquiring salt… cue the Salt Monster from Star Trek in 3… 2… 1…
Leeches have come a long way from being the preferred tool of medieval blood-letters to the horror lurking in local streams and ponds… and back to being the preferred tool of modern blood-letters (and the occasional jackass). Yes, leeches are our friends: so-called Leech Therapy utilizes leeches and their blood-thinning enzyme Hirudin to treat a number of illnesses ranging from post-reattachment trauma to treating infertility. Biologists are working on artificial Hirudin dispensers, “mechanical leeches” as it were, to take the place of actual living medicinal leeches (and help find Sarah Connor).
“What Jaws did for sharks, Stand By Me did for leeches.” Indeed, though the 1986 film (and the original Stephen King novel) was packed with powerful, gut-wrenching scenes, not much can top poor Gordie discovering that “the grandfather of all leeches” had put the bite on the family jewels. As for Attack of the Giant Leeches, let’s just say it sucks – big time. Bing!
Lampreys are marine creatures that have evolved to resemble blood-sucking buzz saws… and you don’t want to be a tree! Scientists classify lampreys as jawless fishes but don’t be fooled: they might be jawless but they make up for it by having a wide, circular mouth lined with rows of wickedly sharp teeth. Lampreys can grow up to 40 inches (100cm) in length, often longer than their prey. When a lamprey locks onto a fish with its oral disk and begins gnawing through living flesh in search of blood, the victim is advised to give up finding Nemo and start finding religion.
Not all lampreys are carnivorous, and attacks on humans are rare. Speaking of “rare”, lampreys are considered to be a delicacy in parts of Europe where they have been described as being more “meaty” in consistency compared to other fish. No less than Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is said to have enjoyed a Coronation Pie made with lampreys. One imagines she felt eel-ated.
Candiru (Vampire Catfish)
The Candiru (Vandellia cirrhosa), sometimes called the Vampire Catfish, is a type of parasitic freshwater fish found only in the Amazon River. Candiru are hard to detect in their natural habitat, being semi-translucent and small in size. Candiru are endowed with finely tuned sensors that pick up traces of ammonia in water, typically emitted from the gills of passing fish. The Candiru follows the ammonia trail and uses barbed spines on its gill covers to lodge itself in its victim’s gills, drawing blood whenever it feels hungry.
Not all ammonia trails lead back to fish gills, unfortunately, and this should be noted by those who would attempt to answer nature’s call while immersed waist-deep in the Amazon. Though anecdotal tales of Candiru lodging themselves in human urinary tracts go back centuries, there is only one documented case in modern times (1997). Silvio Barbossa (above), the male victim, survived 2 hours of surgery required to remove the 13.4cm (5.5 inch!) long Candiru from its final resting place in his scrotum. The Candiru (shown above, after removal) was not so “lucky”.
Vampires and Boobies? It’s more likely than you think. Charles Darwin used the dozen or so different species of Finch found on the Galapagos Islands to illustrate his newly formulated theory of evolution in his ground-breaking book The Origin Of Species, but even ol’ Chuckie D had to be thrown for a loop by the Vampire Finch (Geospiza difficilis septentrionalis), however. It’s thought that this finch first evolved a symbiotic relationship with the islands’ seabirds, grooming them of parasites and eating what they found. Eventually though, the sharp-beaked critters drew blood in the course of their diligent probing and decided that blood tasted better than bugs. Kinda makes sense, no?
Check out this video to see the Vampire Finch doing what, for literary and movie vampires, comes supernaturally:
Three different species of Vampire Bat are exclusively hematophagous, meaning they feed only on blood: Common Vampire Bats (Desmodus rotundus), Hairy-legged Vampire Bats (Diphylla ecaudata) and White-winged Vampire Bats (Diaemus youngi). They are proficient li’l devils: in one year, a 100-strong Vampire Bat colony can drink the blood of 25 cows (or 2.5 Rosie O’Donnells). Moo-ving on, Vampire Bats can be found from Mexico south to Argentina and Brazil in South America, though who in their right mind would want to look for them – especially on a dark, moonlit night near the end of October. Those who do should keep these words in mind: Hokus Cadabra! Or is it Abra Capokus? Heck, try ‘em both, what could happen?
Bram Stoker, the author who originated the character of Count Dracula in his 1897 novel of the same name, was likely inspired in part by stories of Vampire Bats and descriptions of the twin puncture marks left by their canine teeth – or if you prefer, fangs (you’re welcome).
As for Vampire Bats themselves, they share an interesting connection with Stoker by way of their feeding style. Vampire bats do not actually “suck” the blood of their victims, instead simply lapping up the blood that oozes from their bites. Normally such blood would rapidly clot when exposed to air but Vampire Bats employ an enzyme in their saliva that keeps fresh blood from clotting. The substance, named by a somewhat over-enthusiastic researcher, is called… Draculin.
(image via: The Stranger)
Count Dracula may have exercised a form of animal magnetism on his (mainly female) victims but the attraction of blood as a source of nourishment makes practical sense from the point of view of certain creatures. Irregardless of what Jeff Probst says at Tribal Council, blood gives life and so-called “animal vampires” merely ask that you share a little. So have a heart… and be thankful they don’t ask for THAT.