From COVID-19 to regular folklore, bats haven't exactly had the best rep amongst humans. And chances are, the study of a South American bat breed won't help anyone's fear - it hunts other bats.
Meet the Vampyrum spectrum, or, more commonly known as the great false vampire bat. False, due to the fact that they don't suck blood like vampires, rather, they feast on other critters of the night including rodents, birds, large insects, and - of course - other bats. Unlike their docile cousins, the fruit bat, these enormous flying predators are the largest type of bat in all of the Western Hemisphere - and they've got quite the intimidating build. With a wingspan reaching more than three feet and a set of sharp teeth fit to kill, this nocturnal hunter certainly means business.
In fact, their reputation hasn't just stayed within the animal kingdom. Humans in nearby towns and villages in Central and South America are aware of their might as well, as they have since nicknamed them "jaguar on the wing." But beyond their size and capabilities, little is known about these impressive creatures because they're difficult to catch and study. "I think the Vampyrum, in particular, are just cruising through the forest looking for small vertebrates, and when they hear something odd, they go in to investigate," explained Nancy Simmons of the American Museum of Natural History. She, along with Brock Fenton of Western University head to the forests of Belize each year to organize bat surveys. And according to National Geographic, their research has contributed to more than 60 academic journal articles.
And while more questions than answers remain for this intimidating creature, for researchers like Nancy and Brock, that just means there's more opportunity to learn. As one of the nine bat species that classify as carnivores, Vampyrum plays a unique role in the ecosystem's food chain that is worth studying. "They administer the killing bite, usually biting the top of the head or back of the neck," another contributing scientist shared of his findings. One thing's for certain: extra precaution is definitely required while dealing with these animals.
Stay tuned for more interesting insights from the animal kingdom!