What could be more spooky than the idea of something sucking your blood while you are sleeping? Movies, TV shows and books about vampires abound these days. So what do some bats have in common with Dracula? The need to survive on blood alone.
Vampire bats feed mainly off of livestock but have increasingly been feasting on humans. Besides being downright creepy, the big problem is that they are vectors for spreading rabies:
So how do vampire bats find food? They are certainly better at finding veins to draw blood from than a phlebotomist-in-training. In fact, you can probably call them expert vein-finders. New research has shown that they have receptors capable of sensing infrared radiation located in pit organs that surround their nose. This puts them in the same league as heat-sensing snakes including boas, pythons and pit vipers with similar heat-detection mechanisms. However, the receptor the bats use is called TRPV1. This receptor is beloved by chili aficionados because it is responsible for detecting the heat producing chemical, capsaicin, in peppers. The receptor in bats becomes activated when temperatures reach approximately 30°C. This high degree of sensitivity allows them to easily find your veins. If only blood collection syringes came with heat-sensing needles…
Just for fun this Halloween, you can check out this website that is “dedicated to the horrors of pre-anesthetic surgery” as well as human consumption of blood. Spooky….
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EO Gracheva, JF Cordero-Morales, JA González-Carcacía, NT Ingolia, C Manno, CI Aranguren, JS Weissman, D Julius. Ganglion-specific splicing of TRPV1 underlies infrared sensation in vampire bats. Nature 476: 88-91, 2011.