Vampire squid

We are all aware of the mythical bloodthirsty vampires that roam the night looking for an unsuspecting victim, but there are a number of real animals that feed on blood of humans and other animals. These animals can fly, swim, or lie in wait for their next victim.

The danger that these “vampires” pose is not draining all the blood from their victims, but more likely the spread of disease. Many insects and arachnids consume blood. Tsetse flies drink the blood of the host and can spread sleeping sickness, an enlargement of the brain in humans. It is estimated that nearly 300,000 people around the world have this fly-borne illness.

The tick is also widespread throughout the globe. Ticks are unusual that their shells are elastic. This enables them to consume large amounts of blood and become engorged. Ticks spread Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and encephalitis. The bloodthirsty mosquito causes nearly 3 million human deaths per year, making it the most dangerous animal to humans. Mosquitoes spread encephalitis, malaria, yellow fever, and West Nile virus.

Fleas can be found on a number of animals and usually take up residence in the fur or hair of the host. Fleas were the leading transmitting agent of bubonic plaque during the Middle Ages.

There are a number of fresh and salt water leeches that will affix to fish, birds, or unsuspecting swimmers. Leeches secrete anticoagulants and blood thinners while feeding. Leeches are still used in some cultures for medicinal purposes.

Lamprey eels look like some alien space creature. They are found in both fresh and salt water. Lampreys are more threatening to fish than to people, and they reeked havoc on the Great Lakes when they were first introduced in the late 1800s, causing a steep decline in many fish species.

There is a small parasitic catfish that lives in the Amazon River that will make its way into wounds or body cavities of unsuspecting swimmers and feast on a blood meal. The vampire squid inhabits depths up to 3,000 feet below the surface and does not crave a blood meal; rather this aquatic creature get its name from its cape-like tentacles and large bulging eyes.

Photo from flickr.com by Natalie Ehrlich

The vampire finch is found in the Galapagos Islands and has been known to pick on the wounds of larger sea birds when seeds and flowers are in short supply.

Finally there is the vampire bat found in Central and South America. These bats normally feed on cattle and other livestock but they will take human blood. Vampire bats can spread rabies and they are blamed for about four human fatalities per year.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 10/27/2013