the White-Winged Vampire Bat

Looks like a baby Yoda or something don’t it?
I am fascinated by this creature. I consider their kind among the smartest, most gentle predator species on Earth. Scientists call these Diaemus Youngi; the White-Winged Vampire Bat. They feed on blood from the feet of sleeping birds.

Bats are weird. They’re the only mammals who fly. Nocturnal creatures, who hang upside-down from their feet to sleep. Plus: they can’t see. Bats navigate with an audio spacial-recognition system known as echolocation. Chirped at high frequencies, the sounds in the linked audio clip help the Myotis bat locate prey insects up to thirty feet away.

To help us grasp the echolocation concept I point to the experience of a blind human:

Ask people about Ben Underwood and you’ll hear dozens of stories…about the amazing boy who doesn’t seem to know he’s blind. There’s Ben zooming around on his skateboard outside his home in Sacramento; there he is playing kickball with his buddies. To see him speed down hallways and make sharp turns around corners is to observe a typical teen – except, that is, for the clicking. Completely blind since the age of 3, after retinal cancer claimed both his eyes (he now wears two prostheses), Ben has learned to perceive and locate objects by making a steady stream of sounds with his tongue, then listening for the echoes as they bounce off the surfaces around him. About as loud as the snapping of fingers, Ben’s clicks tell him what’s ahead: the echoes they produce can be soft (indicating metals), dense (wood) or sharp (glass). Judging by how loud or faint they are, Ben has learned to gauge distances.

It is suggested that bats evolved through natural selection from gliding mammals such as the flying squirrel. Perhaps, the theory goes, random DNA mutations — passed down through generations — stretched and thinned the skin in flying squirrel’s flaps until they gained enough control over their glide to enable genuine flight.

One wonders: Is the boy’s seeming supernatural ability to echo-locate developed — from the age of 3 — out of a random genetic mutation of his own?

Vampire bats have gained a Bad Rap for bloodletting their prey. The vulture has a similarly bad name because they pluck nutrient-rich flesh from the bones of dead animals. It tells something about our Mind-set, that the vulture — a hunter who waits patiently for nature to run its course — are considered lower on the Food Chain than predators who violently kill their feed.

As if what vultures do is disgusting.

Yeah — but who wants to get their blood sucked by a bat? Well. If I were a prey animal — humans were once, until we learned to protect ourselves from wild predation (now we prey on ourselves) — I’d feel downright jolly about it. Specifically, if I were a chicken given the choice between being captured & killed & eaten by a fox and having blood drank from my toe while I sleep…I’d take a good bloodletting.

I say the White-Winged Vampire bat is among the smartest of Planet Earth’s species. Because they don’t diminish their own food supply; these bats don’t kill their prey.

And — as the good folks at New Mexico’s Rancho Transylvania have learned — White-Winged Vampire bats are phenomenally gentle, among predatory species. Bats kept in captivity there feed on chickens. Each chicken plays host to a bat once a week. The chickens stay healthy. And rarely awaken while preyed upon.

They don’t feel a thing.

5 Responses to “the White-Winged Vampire Bat”

  1. 1 galloway October 12, 2006 at 8:01 am

    Hey, you’re back.

    This is very different from your previous pieces.

    I’ve been a trifle concerned for your welfare. Glad to know you’re OK.

  2. 2 Mike E October 12, 2006 at 9:19 am

    If you weren’t concerned for my welfare sometimes…I’d swear you must not be human!

    And yeah, in many ways right now it’s real rough for me. That said, I am nothing if not a Survivor….

    Oh, re that radio gig: I train on Saturday, and my show may be on as soon as this week. Still down to be my first interviewee?

  3. 3 dfect802 October 12, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    I think that as humans we sometimes (well most of the time) have a difficult time conceiving a world view other than our own.
    ex- being blind but still constructing a world view through sound. such as the boy.
    The bat shows it can perceive a fully constructed view of its environment. i dont think it sees “bug” or “trees” as we humans see them. humans get get hung up in the details.
    we go into the “how can that be possible ” mode. our reason hits a wall.
    There are other realities out there and they are complete to those who perceive them.
    stop “thinking” about your world and new ones seemingly pop up everywhere.

  4. 4 Mike E October 12, 2006 at 6:28 pm

    Eloquently spoke, dfect802, and I totally agree.

    Moreover I feel you’ve made a kick-ass argument for a few fat rails of Ketamine!

    Just, you know — for that sub-human primate POV…

    So I’ll stop thinking about it, as you suggest, and trust that soon those bottles will ‘pop up everywhere…’


  5. 5 galloway October 13, 2006 at 8:57 am

    Re. radio show: Absolutely.

    By the way I’ve recently launched another blog to soak up my fiction output.

    A literary hit-man

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