Sanguivorous Lifestyle: Why is Vampire Bats' Bloody Diet So Good For Them?
Vampire bats are the only creatures known to science that have nothing but blood on their daily menu. And such a diet appears to suit them very well due to certain evolutionary tweaks.
It appears that the vampirical menu works well for vampire bats because of gene loss, with the animals adjusting their genomes to turn their bodies into blood-processing machines, according to a new study published in Science Advances
The research, led by comparative genomics professor Michael Hiller of the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics in Frankfurt, Germany, shows that vampire bats have evolved in a certain way to get the best out of their sanguivorous lifestyle.
Even though these animals consume nothing but blood, they've learned how to cope with the heightened iron levels and threat of starvation that their diet ultimately poses. In order to look deeper into that, the scientific team compared the genomes of vampire bats and two dozen other bats.
It turns out that there are more than 10 genes that no longer function in vampire bats, including those responsible for the sense of taste, certain digestion mechanisms, and colour vision.
"We think the simplest explanation for many of them is likely what people describe as 'use it or lose it'", Hiller said as cited by Popular Science.
The explanation as to why some genes were ditched could be very simple. When it comes to blood digestion, vampire bats hardly need some kind of advanced sense of taste, so that's why the genes responsible for that were rendered unnecessary. The same goes for the gene that enables the processing of nutrients like sugars and fats.
The genes involved in colour vision could have been ditched due to vampire bats' hunting habits: since they prefer to hunt in the dark of night, often even avoiding moonlight, such genes are no longer useful.
"These gene losses tell us a lot about past natural selection in the vampire bat lineage", Gerald Carter, a behavioural ecologist at The Ohio State University, told Popular Science. “These traits are not just about how they digest blood. It extends out to how they behave and even how they think".
Vampire bats have "pretty exceptional terrestrial locomotion skills, while in other bats it's much more limited", according to Hiller. Aside from this, these animals even help each other out if some of them fail to feed properly: another bat will share a meal with another if that happens (given that the other bat also helped in some way in the past).
In fact, these bats boast immense social skills: they even appear to develop "friendships". A study
conducted in 2019 found that when one is starved of blood for a night, their "pals" will regurgitate last night's dinner as a "food donation" and comfortingly groom one another. However, such behaviour was found to only be typical for female bats, as male bats are usually to busy fighting each other for territory to develop "friendships".
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