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Vampire bats are nippy runners

PTI | ByAgence France-Presse, Paris
Mar 19, 2005 08:59 PM IST

The blood-sucking species has long intrigued scientists.

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.

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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.

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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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