The vampire bat is a species of small bats that are very popular in parts of Central and South America. Much like their fictional relatives, these animals have their primary source of food as blood. Over the years, vampire bats have completely adapted to feeding on blood. The only difference between real-life vampire bats and the ones in movies is their inability to change to human form.
There are three recognized subspecies of vampire bats- the common vampire bat, the hairy-legged vampire bat, and the white-winged vampire bat. All species are extant in America and are the only living mammals that solely feed on blood.
These bats are also very small, with long wings and finger-like bones covered in a thin layer of skin. Because of how small they are and their dietary choices, it is only natural to wonder what the teeth of these animals look like, how many they have, and exactly how they function. This article will help you understand all of these and more.
Do Vampire Bats Have Teeth?
Like other bat species, vampire bats have teeth. However, because of their dietary choices, their teeth are very different from other bats. Adult vampire bats have almost 20 teeth, and because of their dietary choices, it sometimes feels like having that amount of teeth might not be necessary for these creatures.
In all, the way the vampire bat’s teeth are formed is one of the most noticeable distinctions in its look, compared to other bats. Their front fangs are extremely sharp, and they may penetrate their victim to gain access. Additionally, compared to most bat species, they have rear teeth that are shorter and duller.
One thing about vampire bats is that they have razor-sharp incisors. Unlike most mammals that have enamels protecting their teeth, vampire bats do not. As such, the absence of enamel on the upper incisors makes them razor sharp.
Do Newly Born Vampire Bats Have Teeth?
Baby vampire bats are called pups. Like most bats, vampire bats are born with milk teeth. However, their adult teeth do not start to grow until later on. When they are born, baby vampire bats do not have the developed teeth needed to find their own food, which is why they live off of milk from the body of their mothers.
Like most mammals, vampire bats give birth to their young alive and feed them milk from their nipples for a while until they are ready to go out and forage for themselves. This process takes anywhere between a few weeks to a few months.
Another reason baby vampire bats cannot go out to find their food is their size. Adults generally have a wingspan of 7 inches and weigh around 0.7 to 2 ounces. Like other bats, baby vampire bats weigh ¼ of their mother’s total weight and are also born blind and without hair.
How Do Vampire Bat Teeth Work?
Bats’ teeth work differently based on the type and diet. Bats that feed on bugs, for instance, use their canines and incisors to catch and grab their prey before choking them. Fruit bats, on the other hand, use their teeth to open tough fruit shells. The bat’s teeth serve a lot of purposes depending on what they eat. Vampire bats are no different.
Vampire bats evolved from frugivorous bats with sharp teeth specialized for piercing fruit. The early species of these animals fed on ectoparasites of large mammals before progressing to feed on the animals themselves. Before sticking strictly with blood as their only source of nutrition, vampire bats were also once attracted to insects and the wounds of smaller animals.
Do Vampire Bats Suck Blood?
Another distinguishing factor between vampire bats and fictional vampires is that vampire bats do not actually suck blood. Instead of sucking blood as most people believe, they use their teeth to cause a wound on the skin of their prey and use their tongues to lap up the blood from the wound they caused.
The common vampire bat uses its canine and cheek teeth like a barber’s blades to remove any hair from the host’s skin if it has any on it. Then, a 7 mm wide and 8 mm deep cut is made by the bat’s upper incisor teeth. Vampire bats have razor-sharp incisors, and unlike most mammals that have enamels protecting their teeth, vampire bats do not. As such, due to the absence of enamel on the upper incisors, they are always razor-sharp.
The saliva of the vampire bat helps it feed from a bite for an extended time. Numerous substances can be found in their saliva, such as anticoagulants that impede blood clotting, prolonging bleeding.
Although all vampire bats feed on blood, the type of blood they feed on differs. While both the hairy-legged and white-winged vampire bats typically consume bird blood, the common vampire bat mostly consumes the blood of mammals, even humans on occasion.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Michael Lynch/Shutterstock.com
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- PBS News Hour, Available here: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/7-things-you-didnt-know-about-vampire-bats
- Bats World, Available here: https://www.batworlds.com/vampire-bat/