[Author's Note: At University (in the early 2000's), I took a Sociology class on the myth and symbolism of Witchcraft, and as part of the class, I ended up writing a paper on the mythology and folklore of vampires, which then lead me into a paid gig writing vampire articles for a while. So I've decided to share these articles of vampire myth and folklore here ~ C ]
What is the truth of the flying rodents associated with the vampire? I am speaking of course, of the Vampire Bat. There really is not much of a connection, except that they both drink blood. In legends, the vampire is thought to be able to change shape from man to bat (as well as wolves and other night creatures). Vampire bats however, were discovered many hundreds of years after the old European folklore and beliefs of vampires (the bloodsucking creatures of superstition).
The connection between bats and vampires was only truly made with Bram Stoker's novelization of 'Dracula'. The first weak connection in literature between bats and vampires was 'Varney the Vampire', but it was not until Western Literature became interested in Vampires around 1897, with the release of 'Dracula', that the connection between bats and vampires was solidified.
Vampire bats were named after their bloodsucking counterparts in Europe because of the fact that two species of the vampire bat feed exclusively on blood from mainly small birds. The third species of vampire bat feeds exclusively on other mammals, and though highly uncommon, the vampire bat has also fed on humans (though, not on their neck).
The bat uses its saliva, which is a mild anesthetic and also contains an ingredient that prevents the blood from clotting, so as not to cause the 'victim' any irritation. It then uses its incisor teeth to bite into the skin, causing a triangle shaped wound. The bat then uses its rough, sandpaper textured tongue to open the wound. Then it turns its tongue into a kind of tube or funnel through which it can lap and suck the blood - which does not hurt the host. The bats are so light in weight that bloodsucking can last up to 30 minutes without the host waking up.
Unlike the vampire in folklore and literature, the vampire bat does not kill or harm its host, as it does not drink enough of the host's blood to do serious damage. The vampire bat usually drinks two tablespoons of blood per day on average. They have special heat sensors on their nose, in order to help them locate a vein close to the skin. If the bats have not had any blood to drink in two days, they will die.
The vampire bat, and bats in general, are quite small creatures. The average body length is 2 and ¾ centimeters, and it weighs only one ounce. The average wingspan is 8 " (much smaller than that of vampire bats in Dracula films). Mating season lasts all year for the vampire bat, and like most mammals, their gestation period is similar to humans-about 6 to 8 months. The typical number of offspring is one. Their lifespan is quite long and may reach up to 20 years or older (maybe this is another aspect tied into the immortality aspect of vampires?)
The vampire bat tends to live in trees, in caves, or even in buildings. Their colonies can number up to 2000 but most contain only 100 or so. Of course, other species of bats live in colder climate areas, but the vampire bat seems to thrive only in hot, humid areas such as the Southern and Central Americas (including Mexico). It would not survive at all in countries like Romania, and places like Transylvania.
The reason vampire bats did not feature much, or at all, in European folklore is that they were not native to the area. In some Gypsy folklore, bats cropped up but their image was benevolent, and people carried around their bones in small bags for good luck. Bloodletting has traditionally been thought to have healing qualities and there have been accounts of people in the early 20th century being sick with fever in the jungles of South America being recovered from their sickness by being bitten by a vampire bat. Regardless of the history of the bat in some areas as benevolent, vampire bats appear in film today as filthy, bloodsucking vermin. They are represented on Hallowe'en with blood dripping from their 'fangs'. Why people today have a fear of bats (and not of other flying creatures such as birds) I do not understand. The bat is a fascinating creature. They have a bad reputation in modern society, but hopefully with getting the truth out there, that can be changed.
Want more vampire lore? then check out this one!