Don’t panic, but vampire bats have started to feed off humans

Rob Waugh
Picture Smithsonian
Picture Smithsonian

Vampire bats in South America have started to feed off human blood, scientists say – in a development that’s both puzzling and a bit alarming.

Researchers found chicken and human DNA in bat faeces – a surprise, because the bats normally feed on bird blood.

Enrico Bernard from the Federal University of Pernambuco in Brazil told New Scientist, ‘We were quite surprised. This species isn’t adapted to feed on the blood of mammals.’

Bernard’s team analysed 15 faecal samples from a colony of hairy-legged vampire bats found in the Caatinga forests of Brazil, Science Alert reports.

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They found that the bats’ normal prey faced population decline due to deforestation – and that the bats had both chicken and human DNA in their faeces.

The team writes, ‘House conditions in Catimbau are usually poor, and domestic animals are usually in close contact with humans, what may explain the occurrence of both chicken and human blood in our samples.

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What’s unclear is how the bats adapted to human blood – and whether their new diet poses a risk to humans, as New Scientist reports that bats have been shown to carry hantavirus in the past, which can be lethal to humans.