Thursday, June 08, 2006

Dracula Birds: Why Bats Aren't Nature's Only Vampires

The word vampire conjures up images of Transylvanian castles, Christopher Lee as a blood-soaked Count Dracula and - most of all - bats. Yet, scientists are discovering that the winged mammals are far from the only creatures to exist on a red-blooded diet. One East African spider, for instance, has acquired a taste for human blood. So it specifically targets another blood-sucking creature, the mosquito, for its meals. Elsewhere, the lamprey is the marine world’s equivalent of the vampire. The eel-like fish hunts trout and other smaller species. Once it has its target in sight it sinks its teeth into the soft tissue and begins sucking out its victim's body fluids. Perhaps the most bizarre vampires, however, are the small, but deeply devious finches that live on the Galapagos islands. During the dry season the birds attach themselves to the wings of larger, slow-witted birds, like the booby, then sneakily peck away until they draw blood. Amazingly, as this National Geographic film of the blood-sucking birds shows, the finches feast away undisturbed, even managing to open up gaping wounds without being ejected. Clearly the booby - along with the Dracula birds' other victims - needs to add a little garlic to its diet.

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