Vampire Bats Draw Blood From Penguin Chicks

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Researchers have for the first time captured footage of vampire bats attacking Humboldt penguin chicks. As the bat’s name suggests, the predators bite right into their victims and gulp down blood.

“Although the local scientists had seen evidence of bite marks on the penguins’ feet, no one could say confidently that it happens as they had never witnessed it before,”  producer Matthew Gordon told BBC Nature.

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Gordon created the video for the BBC with co-producer Phillip Dalton and cameraman Jim Clare. The crew used infrared equipment in dark caves — home to the penguins — to track the behavior.

“As we scanned the colony using the infrared LED, the team observed the penguins reacting strangely to something on the ground. They nervously pecked and showed clear signs of agitation,” Gordon said. The bats “could not get to feed easily on the adult penguins who were more aware of them. So the bats had to resort to feeding on the less suspecting juvenile penguins.”

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It’s not a pretty site. The penguins don’t immediately keel over from the attack, but there are some potentially deadly consequences, such as rabies. Their bites can also lead to blood loss that may weaken the chicks, leading to a domino effect of other health problems.

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The documentary follows the lives of a variety of penguin species using some unusual filming techniques, including cameras disguised as boulders and even penguins themselves. Check out some of the footage, captured in the outskirts of the Atacama Desert in southern Peru.

Photo: Michael & Patricia Fogden/CORBIS