The vampire bats now may seem more intimidating than ever. The researchers from Brasil have found the human DNA in the diet of the hairy-legged vampire bat (Diphylla ecaudata). But, no worries the folklore tales and myths about vampires will come true – the main concern is the potential disease spreading.
D.Eucadata is one of the three vampire bats whose only food source is blood. This bat inhabits the tropical forests of South and Central America. While other two vampire bat species are commonly fed on mammals (cattle, pigs, etc.), the hairy-legged vampire bat is adapted to process bird blood. The bird blood has a lot of fat, as opposed to the thicker, high-protein mammal’s blood.
Researchers from the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil wondered how adaptable D. Eucadata actually were. Enrico Bernard and his team collected 70 faeces samples of the hairy-legged vampire bat for analysis. The results were quite surprising – besides the birds DNA, and chicken DNA, they have also found the human DNA in the 15 samples.
“This species isn’t adapted to feed on the blood of mammals”, Bernard said. “They are adapting to their environment and exploiting the new resources.”
The team was surprised by the results since D.Eucadata prey are mainly birds. The mammals are not its target. But, this is obvious proof of the bat’s adaptation on the large wild birds declining. When their usual food isn’t available, they have to find the substitute.
The researchers suppose that the bats somehow had entered the local houses during the night in the search for food. House conditions in Catimbau are usually poor, and domestic animals are usually in close contact with humans, what may explain the occurrence of both chicken and human blood in our samples.”
“House conditions in Catimbau are usually poor, and domestic animals are usually in close contact with humans, what may explain the occurrence of both chicken and human blood in our samples,” the team reports.
This finding raises the concerns about potentially harmful consequences of vampire bat’s targeting humans as hosts. It is well-known that vampire bats are a major transmitter of rabies.
Daniel Becker from the University of Georgia in Athens, US, who wasn’t involved in the study, but is studying vampire bats in agricultural landscapes, told New Scientist the infectious diseases carried by the species need to be investigated. “Past work has found that it carries the hantavirus,” he says.
The research has been published in Acta Chiropterologica.