Beware the bat, comics and horror movies would have us believe. But out of the roughly 1,000 bat species that inhabit Earth, only three drink blood, and it’s usually just a sip from an unsuspecting cow. Bats picked up the bad rap when European explorers encountered the species in Central and South America in the 1500s and quickly associated them with vampire folklore.
Today, biologists have unearthed a variety of organisms that practice hematophagy, or drinking blood for food. Many are parasites. Some drink only blood to survive, while others include the nutrient-packed fluid as part of a balanced diet. Other animal vampires were bestowed with the ghoulish name because they are predators with fearsome reputations, or they simply looked scary and reminded early naturalists of the legendary bloodsuckers.
Whatever the origins of their names, these real-world vampires will have you under their spell:
Vampire Flying Frogs
A relatively recent discovery, the vampire flying frog inhabits the foggy cloud forests of southern Vietnam. With a red body and sharp, black fangs, Rhacophorus vampyrus certainly looks the part. But this frog is more cannibal than vampire. Using their big webbed feet and hands, the frogs glide and dive from tree to tree, spending their lives in the forest canopy. Females even lay their eggs inside tree holes with water pools. The tadpoles hatch and plop into the water, but with nothing there to eat, they wouldn’t last long. So the mamma frog returns and lays a batch of unfertilized eggs in the pool. With their trademark fangs, the tadpoles scoop up and scarf down the nutrient-rich eggs. Despite these finely tuned adaptations to the resource-poor environment, the vampire flying frog faces some considerable threats: climate change, a destructive fungus and habitat loss. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the species as endangered.