29th October 2009

The truth about vampires

Over Halloween bats are often portrayed as terrifying bloodsucking fiends but they're really gentle, captivating creatures that desperately need our help to survive. In the UK bats rely on insects not blood for food but over the last fifty years bat populations have suffered severe declines in the UK due to the destruction of habitats and loss of insects for bats to feed on.

Ghosts, goblins and vampires Vampire bats do exist - there are three species, all found in Central and South America. But they are nothing like the enormous, blood-crazed monsters portrayed in horror fiction! About the same size as the UK's noctule bat, vampire bats feed mainly on cattle and other livestock. They make a small graze on their host's skin to encourage a flow of blood, then lap it up with their tongues, consuming about a tablespoon of blood each night. An anti-coagulant in their saliva stops the blood of their host from clotting - a gruesome fact, until you discover that the anti-coagulant has been used to develop a treatment for stroke patients.

There are even some species of false 'vampire bats', so-called because they were originally thought to feed on blood. One such species is the ghost bat, Australia's only carnivorous bat. This pale-coloured bat feeds on small animals (including other bats) and has great spiritual significance to the Australian Aborigines. Another appropriately-named bat for this time of year is the little goblin bat, which can be found across Africa, South America and Australia.

Did you know?

  • There are over 1000 species of bats and only three of these are vampires.
  • There are no Vampires in Transylvania - they live in South and Central America.
  • Bats fly and feed in the dark, which they are able to do by producing a stream of high-pitched calls and listening to the returning echoes which give a distinct 'sound' picture of the surroundings. This is called 'echolocation'
  • Bats in the UK eat only insects, which they catch in flight or pick off water, foliage or the ground. In the summer a pipistrelle bat can eat 3,000 insects a night! When there are few insects, bats hibernate in cool parts of buildings, caves or hollow trees.
  • Other than the plastic bats in shop windows you are unlikely to see any bats flying around at this time of year as bats will be looking for suitable sites to hibernate for the winter ahead.
  • Bats are long-lived (some can live for up to 30 years). They are warm-blooded, give birth and suckle their young. They are very sociable animals, living together in colonies.
  • All 17 species of bats in the UK are under threat from loss of habitat and declines in insect numbers. The Bat Conservation Trust is the only national charity soley devoted to helping bats and you can join here

Batty activities Bored of carving the same old Halloween pumpkin year after year? It sounds like you need to create your very own bat pumpkin! How to make a bat pumpkin and loads more fun Halloween activities can be found here.