Fiction logo

Vampire Biology Explained

The Science of Vampirism

By Ash MartinPublished 9 months ago 17 min read

Mythical creatures have haunted us for eons. Stories of ogres, werewolves, dragons, yetis, giants, and other terrifying creatures lurk in every culture and across all recorded time. And though societies rise and fall, it seems the tales of otherworldly creatures are harder to kill. One such creature is said to stalk the night, seeking any unfortunate souls upon which to feed—each victim providing the creature's immortal body with a dark sacrifice of blood. I am speaking, of course, of the vampire—a kind of undead leech, a species nearly indistinguishable from humans, saved for its cold pale skin and enlarged canines. For hundreds of years, and perhaps even longer, people have lived in fear of these mythical, shape-shifting monsters, or alternatively have been fascinated by them. However incredible it may sound, I posit, dear listener, that vampires are not only based on truth but walk among us even today. Indeed, they are real. And now I present the culmination of years of research into vampire lore, biology, anatomy, physiology, and behavior. For this brief time together, I ask you to lend me your ear as we dive deep into the disturbing biological reality of the vampire.

There is likely no discernible patient zero when it comes to the disease of vampirism. When asked, historians and theologians may point to Lilith or Lilitu—a figure in both Hebrew and Babylonian mythology. In both stories, nocturnal sanguivory, or blood eating, is a common thread. As previously mentioned, the concept of the vampire is present in cultures around the world. The strigoi in Russia, the mananangal of the Philippines, the jiangxi of China, the Caribbean sokoyant—these monsters differ in many ways, but they share one common trait: a thirst for human blood. But it was the legends of 12th-century Europe that truly cemented our modern conception of the vampire. It was this era that gave us many of the superstitions and traits we associate with vampires even today. Though of course, Stoker's Dracula and Renau's Nosferatu have been arguably even more influential in the modern era.

Like many of you, for years I considered these myths of nocturnal blood-sucking creatures to be nothing more than primitive fantasy relics of bygone religions and the products of overactive imaginations. Then many years ago, I was confronted with something I couldn't explain. A dear friend and colleague were attacked under the cover of night, her blood drained from two small pricks in her neck as she slept in her bed. Since that time, I sought her killer and stumbled upon a truth purposefully hidden for millennia. And though I haven't yet filled in all the gaps, I now believe that I have enough evidence to draw a conclusion: vampires are not supernatural beings as the stories tell. They are as real as you or I but the result of a mutagenic virus. They possess abilities that I am only beginning to comprehend. I hope that you'll withhold your judgment as to my level of sanity for just a few moments longer. I will present to you now the findings it's taken me decades to compile. Thanks to some new colleagues, much of these findings are taken from first-hand observation and dissection.

But before we can discuss the details of these creatures' design, we must first understand how their condition spreads. Contrary to popular thought, it is not a supernatural imbuing of life force or selling of one's soul to the devil that causes the dark transformation into a vampire. It is, in fact, a lowly virus transmitted through bodily fluids—a mononegavirus with properties similar to rabies, mumps, and measles. Unlike most others, this insidious virus infects its host cells via endocytosis or full absorption, rather than a more aggressive injection into the cell or outright cell destruction via lysis. Not content to target a single tissue type as other viruses do, the human vampiric virus, as I've come to call it, infects every living cell within the human body, with the exception of red blood cells. This alone is frightening, but it doesn't stop there. HVV appears to alter its host cells in a uniquely insidious manner, allowing them to continue normal processes such as regenerating their membranes while also hijacking them to produce its own virus clones.

In short, while cells are infected and altered, they are not destroyed—a trait that makes the virus immensely successful. Adding to this success is a staggeringly rapid replication cycle. Infection of the thyroid gland initially increases the speed of metabolic processes throughout the body, and the virus's incubation period is a nearly unprecedentedly brief 6 to 12 hours. Once incubation is complete, victims of HVV begin to manifest an array of symptoms not unlike the common flu: headache, fever, chills, as well as the effects of the aforementioned metabolic increase—rapid heart rate, severe thirst, excessive sweating, and frequent urination have all been observed. These symptoms generally last another 6 to 12 hours. But while these particular effects are disturbing, they are by no means unique to HVV.

12 to 24 hours after these symptoms first appear, however, the victim will slip into what I term the "vampiric coma." And it is this state of active unconsciousness that begins the true transformation. If the victim lives through this extraordinarily taxing process, they will awaken an entirely different creature.

As the vampiric coma typically lasts about a day, and the victim almost universally awakens at night, the coma itself is certainly not a peaceful slumber. With the aforementioned symptoms, the victim appears to be in a kind of unconscious agony. It's little wonder why this is; the body undergoes numerous anatomical and physiological changes in a very short amount of time. Based on my own observations, the pulse and breathing become erratic, the pupils dilate, the skin sweats profusely, and significant weight is lost. Toward the end of the coma, the victim appears to be calm and they could be mistaken for dead. There is little doubt that some unfortunate victims have been prematurely buried this way. But the victim doesn't always survive the vampiric coma. In elderly and very young victims, mortality is very high, with a majority of survivors being aged between 18 and 35 years. Many outside this range simply never wake up.

For those that do survive, however, the changes are unmistakable. Victims often undergo a kind of acclimation period, characterized by confusion and paranoia, along with the physical effects of thirst and malnutrition. But this state doesn't last long. Within a day, the first signs of sanguivory manifest, and these newly transformed vampires are a danger to anyone close to them. The mutagenic changes wrought by this pernicious virus are largely complete within a week, and by then, the virus enters a dormancy, only to be reawakened by severe stress or injury, or when it has entered the bloodstream of a new victim.

By now, you're probably wondering just what these changes are. We will now move on to that exact subject, and I thank you for listening this far. Though the exact mechanisms are as yet unknown to me, I believe that the virus works, in essence, by a process known as horizontal gene transfer. This phenomenon isn't unheard of in nature. For example, the genes that facilitate stinger growth in certain cnidarians appear to have been incorporated from the genome of foreign bacteria. What is clear, even to the outside observer, is that by the end of their transformation, vampires exhibit elongated, gracile extremities, extended mandibles, and numerous other anatomical and physiological changes. It is my intent to publish a deeper analysis of each facet of these changes, but since our time is short, I must be succinct.

Some of the less obvious changes, at least to the outside observer, occur in the vampiric brain. There appears to be a reduction in serotonin levels, which would normally temper urges. Neural pathways associated with dopamine and endorphin release are strengthened, specifically in response to feeding. For this reason, for the vampire, drinking blood is an intensely pleasurable act. Circadian rhythms are also reversed in vampires to allow for their new nocturnal biology. But that's only the tip of this proverbial iceberg. The vampire amygdala is hypertrophied, roughly seven percent larger than in the uninfected, and the visual cortex is a staggering 13 percent larger. Synaptic interconnections between the anterior cingulate gyrus and the rest of the brain are much lower than normal, almost as if the core of the brain is being isolated from the neocortex. Furthermore, the corpus callosum is 20% larger in vampires than in humans, resulting in near-instantaneous communication between hemispheres. Finally, interneuron density and cortical folding and lamination far exceed normal parameters, particularly in the visual cortex. In short, vampires are omni-savants with pattern recognition abilities and intelligence far beyond ordinary human capabilities. The enlarged amygdala also seems to facilitate in vampires a level of perception that borders on precognition.

On the other hand, likely partly because of this, vampires are much more prone to obsessive habits, such as rearranging and counting objects. Additionally, vampire motor nerve axons are nearly twice as thick as normal humans', resulting in lightning-fast reflexes. Paired with their extraordinary perception, it's no wonder why our ancestors conferred supernatural powers on the infected. Sight is an additional highly affected sense. Upon awakening from their coma, the vampires' irises are visibly hyper-dilated to the point where they appear almost entirely black. Increased reflectivity causes the irises to shimmer even in faint light, similar to the tapetum lucidum found in many nocturnal animals. In my testing, I've also determined that vampires possess quadrochromatic vision. While we humans only have three types of cones in our eyes, vampires have four—the fourth being tuned to near-infrared. All of this gives the vampire vastly superior night vision, though at the cost of severe sensitivity to light.

This seems as good a time as any to bring up a common myth surrounding vampires: a severe aversion to crucifixes. Since ancient times, vampires have been thought of as a kind of evil spirit—a concept solidified in the Middle Ages. Of course, the greatest threat to any dark entity is the Cross of Christ. But as we've seen, the vampire condition is not supernatural. Is there any legitimacy to this bit of lore? Let me explain with a bit of context. Our eyes contain arrays of specialized receptor cells. Some only activate when they see light and shadow in conjunction. Some activate only when they see horizontal lines, horizons, and so on. In vampires, the receptors that respond to horizontal lines are cross-wired with those that respond to vertical ones. When both sets of receptors are fired simultaneously in a very specific way—that is, when intersecting right angles occupy more than 30 degrees of visual arc—positive feedback seems to generate a neuroelectrical overload in the visual cortex. This overload can lead to violent seizures. Though in my testing, only in specific situations, when the virus first appeared, likely a millennia ago, this glitch caused few problems for vampires. After all, right angles seldom appear in nature, and Euclidean architecture was likely millennia in the future. It seems probable that once humans began constructing buildings, vampires found it difficult to cope. Humans were virtually protected by simple geometry. It's possible that the vampiric plague went into remission in more modern times. However, I believe that HVV is making a resurgence. How is this possible, given the modern ubiquity of right angles? Again, I must reference my own testing. It appears that vampires have developed the ability to selectively focus, keeping certain elements in the background of their vision. In several individuals brought to me, right angles only presented a visual overload when thrust into their direct forward field of vision, and even then, only in well-lit conditions. In short, the so-called crucifix glitch is no myth. There are, however, many actual myths associated with vampires, which I will discuss shortly.

But of course, vampires' heightened senses aren't only limited to sight. Hypertrophic cerebral neurons and additional receptor cells dramatically increase hearing range, and the same is true of smell. Unfortunately for their human victims, hiding from a vampire is nearly impossible. Some of the more impressive changes, however, occur in the more visible aspects of vampire anatomy. For one, muscular composition is drastically altered. During the vampiric coma, human muscles are made up of two main types of fibers:

fast-twitch and slow-twitch, at a ratio of about 50-50. In vampires, an astounding 90 percent of their fibers are the fast-twitch variety. This, along with a significant increase in myoglobin and mitochondria, allows for a greater amount of activity without lactic acid buildup, and elevated intracellular ATP means that vampires are not only frighteningly fast and strong, but they are nearly inexhaustible.

Interestingly, the heart is one muscle that is not strengthened after the change. It is, in fact, the exact opposite. The vampire circulatory system undergoes a complete inversion, as the heart ceases to beat. Instead, blood is pumped via the contraction of skeletal muscle, and the heart eventually atrophies from disuse. While at rest, involuntary spasms known as fasciculations take place in the limbs and emanate from the furthest extremities inward, similar to the wave-like peristalsis of the GI tract. As a result, hand tremors can be a dead giveaway for a disguised vampire. But along with their teeth, one of the most obvious indicators of vampiric infection is their skin. Around three days after awakening from their coma, blood circulation begins to slow, especially in the epidermal capillaries. At the same time, capillaries in the core begin to proliferate, drawing blood away from the skin and into the trunk, giving vampires a signature sickly and almost ghostly pallor. Thinner areas of skin, such as the eye sockets, lids, and lips, are the first to be affected by these changes. To disguise themselves, vampires will often cover as much skin as possible with clothing and apply thick makeup to the rest.

Now, the time has come to speak of arguably the most disturbing aspects of vampire biology: the diet of blood. Digestion begins in the mouth, as they say, and vampires aren't so different in most other respects. However, they are much more similar to the vampire bat, an animal whose insect parasites I hypothesize may have been the original source of the virus. Of course, we can go no further without discussing the vampire's characteristic teeth. During the latter half of the vampiric coma, both the upper and lower incisors experience extremely rapid growth. Produced inside the pulp, it appears that specialized ameloblasts travel through the narrow pores of the dentin and crown. Upon reaching the surface, they will deposit additional enamel onto its tip, creating a sharp fang. As a vampire ages, fluid loss causes a noticeable recession of the gums, making the teeth appear longer. This process bestows the iconic enlarged canine upon its hosts, but they're certainly not for show.

Upon locating a slumbering victim, vampires will use their sharp canines to make an incision in the skin, ideally over a major vessel. Believe it or not, their saliva contains an anticoagulant called "draculin," a glycoprotein also found in the saliva of vampire bats. Once blood is flowing freely, they begin to feed, using a groove in their tongue as a kind of siphon. An additional salivary constituent causes an anesthetic effect in the victim, keeping them unaware until blood loss overcomes them. At this point, you're likely wondering exactly how a human-adjacent being can subsist solely on blood. For that matter, what benefit could eating blood have for a previously human organism? I will attempt to address these very valid questions.

First, I have discovered that a side effect of the virus is the loss of the ability to synthesize PCDHY, a protein responsible for certain aspects of central nervous system development. Since this protein only occurs in hominids, human prey is an essential component of the vampire diet. Without it, they are unable to sustain their enhanced nervous systems, which causes a loop of viral reactivation from which there is no recovery. The ability to extract PCDHY from human blood is a hallmark ability of vampiric digestion. But there is much more. It goes without saying that blood is not a viable food source for an ordinary human. To adapt to this need, vampires undergo severe and drastic changes to both the form and function of their digestive system.

For one, the entire system is reduced in vampires. The stomach atrophies, and large portions of the intestines are shortened. Most impressive, however, is the alteration of the microbiome of the gut. Over a period of years, though the exact number is as yet unknown to me, the gut becomes host to a variety of immune-supporting bacteria—a kind of symbiosis that is facilitated, I believe, by changes to the vampire genome resulting from the HV virus. This, paired with what appears to be an enhanced resistance to prionic diseases, makes the vampire virtually immune to bloodborne diseases and bacteria. Additionally, the vampire digestive system is able to assimilate the high levels of iron found in blood and is able to process its high levels of nitrogen waste.

But then, there is the problem of volume. Human bodies generally contain about five to six liters of blood, while the vampire stomach holds only about one and a half liters. As a result, the popular notion of a vampire draining a victim of all his or her blood is functionally impossible, unless the feeding takes place over several hours. And in fact, this is exactly what occurs. Not only because of limited stomach capacity, in order to cope with the excess nitrogen, vampires must take frequent breaks to urinate. Furthermore, the resulting urine gives off an extremely pungent ammonia-based odor.

At this point, we've discussed much of the changes that occur during the transformation from human into vampire. But you may have picked up on another fundamental problem: if the virus is transmitted via body fluid, and if vampires prey on humans, then it would stand to reason that eventually, humans would be eradicated, leaving vampires with no remaining food source. Paradoxically, it is the virus's inability to infect certain humans that has led to its continued existence. Through some unconventional testing methods, I have determined that a significant portion of the population, though more testing will be necessary to determine just how significant, is effectively immune to HVV. These immune hosts will produce antibodies as soon as they start showing symptoms, whereas normally, it can take days or weeks for the bodies to produce antibodies for a new infection. The one exception to this rule is natural antibodies, which are believed to be the result of microbes native to the body since birth. By default, this limits the spread of HVV. But even among those who are susceptible to the virus, vampires have a solution to the problem of overhunting.

Blood tests indicate that vampires have elevated levels of leu-enkephalin, a peptide partially responsible for inducing hibernation in animals like bears and squirrels. Indeed, vampires are able to enter a kind of suspended animation for extended periods of time. And though my own testing has yet to find the limits of this ability, I hypothesize that by awakening every few years, only briefly, to feed, a vampire could remain essentially dormant for hundreds of years. This extended hibernation not only allows the vampire to survive when resources are scarce or competition is fierce, but it also gives their prey an opportunity to repopulate. And with a species as slow at reproducing as humans are, the longer, the better. In fact, even when resources are plentiful, this hibernation period may be required, as the transfer of food energy between trophic levels is not always efficient. A single human can provide enough food for a vampire to survive about a month, or 10 days in heavy exertion.

Though there is much yet to learn about these creatures, it is becoming increasingly clear that vampires are a unique example of biology, adaptation, and parasitism. This may lead us to question whether there are other similar pathogens that have remained hidden from our understanding. At the very least, this discovery forces us to reevaluate the very nature of our relationship with our planet, the creatures we share it with, and even our own role in the ecosystem. As always, I hope that knowledge will guide us in the face of the unknown, and that understanding will replace fear in our pursuit of discovery.

Sci FiShort StoryMysteryHorrorHistoricalFantasyFable

About the Creator

Ash Martin

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights

Comments (1)

Sign in to comment
  • Ash Martin (Author)9 months ago

    Honestly, I reallyyy love to go into detail about these kinds of topics. I love fictional creatures, even though I'd love them even more if they weren't fiction at all.

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.