Running with Vampires

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Running with vampires, described in news@nature 16 March 2005. Bats are good at flying, but with their large wings and small legs, most bats can only manage an awkward crawl if they are on the ground. However, a recent study of vampire bats shows they are good runners, with a unique style not seen in other mammals. Biologists at Cornell University Ithaca, New York captured five adult vampire bats and placed them on a treadmill in a plastic cage (so they could not fly away) and videoed them as treadmill speed increased. At slow speeds, bats walked on all fours, one “foot” after the other, but at speeds around 0.5 m/sec and above the bats bounded along in a true running gait, i.e. with strides that propel the animal forward with all four limbs off the ground. As bats’ forelimbs are larger and stronger than their back legs they use their forelimbs to thrust themselves forward and land on their back legs – the opposite of most other animals.

Daniel Riskin who led the study commented: “The vampire bat doesn’t look like any other animal that can run.” The research team tested other bats on the treadmill but none of them could run. This led to some speculation as to why vampires, but not other bats, could run. Vampire bats feed by sneaking up behind large animals such as cattle, pigs and horses, making a cut in the skin and licking the blood. Colin Catto of the Bat Conservation Trust in England, explained that because vampire bats take a long time to feed they would expend a lot of energy if they tried to hover all that time. Being agile on the ground and able to run between animals is a useful skill. The Cornell biologists claim that running is “a behavioural adaptation re-invented by vampire bats during their evolution.”

Editorial Comment: It is more likely the bats’ feeding habits, rather than their locomotion, has changed. Like all animals, Genesis teaches that bats were created to eat plants, so their sharp teeth would have been useful for cutting into fruit and succulent stems. Many sharp teethed bats still feed this way. Ask any fruit farmer in Queensland, Australia, where fruit bats are a menace. After Noah’s Flood the supply of plant food diminished in both quality and quantity, so any bat that could run, could not only feed on plants, but also feed off moving animals and survive since they could avoid being swatted or stamped on. Non-runners were not able to do this, and were restricted to plants or insects caught on the wing. (Ref. Teeth, flight, diet)

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