Vampire bats are nippy runners

Updated on Mar 19, 2005 08:59 PM IST

The blood-sucking species has long intrigued scientists.

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PTI | ByAgence France-Presse, Paris

Vampire bats are astonishingly good runners, thanks to an evolved skill to help them sneak up on their prey, says a study published on Thursday in the British science weekly Nature.

The blood-sucking species has long intrigued scientists.

Bats are the only mammals that can fly but have become so specialised at flight that, over the millennia, they have almost lost the skill to move on the ground.

The big exception is the vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus), which is well known for using terrestrial mobility to creep up on a cow, horse or pig, leap on its back and feast on its blood.

Whereas its cousins can only shuffle along awkwardly on the ground, D. rotundus is the batty equivalent of a breakdancer, able to walk forwards, sideways and backwards and then get flying with a single vertical jump.

Eager to find out more, animal scientists Daniel Riskin and John Hermanson at New York's Cornell University built a special treadmill inside a plexiglass cage and put five adult male vampire bats through their paces, filmed by a high-speed camera.

The animals used a walking gait at low treadmill speeds of up to 0.56 metres (1.6 feet) per second.

They then broke into a loping run, using the forelimbs of their folded-up wings, to propel themselves forward when the treadmill was cranked up.

They zipped along at up to 1.14 metres (3.7 feet) per second — warp-factor speeds by bat standards.

Even though vampire bats demonstrably have the ability to run, they are rarely seen practising this skill in the wild.

The reason, say the scientists: the advent of big livestock herds in Central and Southern America, which has made food so plentiful that the bats see no point in rushing if they fancy a bite.

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