13 Vampire Animals

Photo: By belizar/Shutterstock
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Bloodthirsty monsters

Vampires are huge in Hollywood these days, thanks largely to media franchises like "Twilight," "True Blood" and "Vampire Diaries." But there's a reason why such bigshot bloodsuckers are rare in real life, even on Halloween: Vampirism is hard work.

The main ingredient in blood is water, which means it usually can't provide enough energy for big-bodied hunters. And since most animals keep their blood closely guarded, real-world vampires must rely on stealth and persistence for even the tiniest sip. But while they don't get much love from Team Edward or Team Jacob, life in the shadows is still big business for the following 13 vampires of the animal kingdom.

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Vampire bat

Photo: By belizar/Shutterstock

Bats are a staple of vampire lore, but not many of them actually walk the walk: Of the roughly 1,000 known bat species, only three drink blood. Two of those — the hairy-legged vampire bat and the white-winged vampire bat — mainly prey on birds, while the common vampire bat (pictured) is a bit more versatile.

It evolved to drink blood from a variety of Central and South American wildlife, but as growing farms and cities shrank that food supply, it started targeting the intruders instead. Today it feeds mainly on cattle, horses and other livestock, as well as humans, a diet that likely helped it avoid extinction. Its bite alone isn't dangerous, but it can spread rabies, which poses a public-health threat across much of its habitat. This year, for example, four children died in Peru after vampire bats sparked a rabies outbreak among the local Awajun tribe.

Watch the video below for a look at how vampire bats sneak up on their hosts:

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Candirú

Dr. Peter Henderson, PISCES Conservation Ltd./Wikimedia Commons.

The candirú is one of the scariest of all vampire animals, but you're probably safe as long as you vow never to urinate in the Amazon or Orinoco rivers. Those are the only known habitats for this tiny, parasitic catfish, which attacks other fish by swimming into their gills — and, on rare occasions, attacks a person by swimming into his or her urethra.

In one documented case, a candirú swam out of the Amazon River, up a local man's urine stream and into his urethra (illustrated here, not graphically), where it tried to feed on blood and tissue before it died. This possibility had been rumored for centuries, but Brazilian surgeons finally verified it in 1997, finding a dead, 6-inch candirú lodged in the victim's urethra. They removed it, and he reportedly made a full recovery.

To watch a candirú hunt, and to see how it can wind up inside the wrong host, check out the video below:

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Female mosquito

naturegirl78/Flickr.

They're behind more human deaths than any other animal, but mosquitoes themselves are actually pretty harmless. Males eat a vegan, nectar-based diet, and although egg-laying females drink blood to get protein, even they don't cause much trouble besides red, itchy welts. The real risk from mosquitoes is the diseases they carry.

Female mosquitoes transmit a wide range of diseases among their hosts, ranging from malaria — a parasite that kills more than 3 million people a year — to dengue fever, yellow fever and West Nile virus. The dangers posed by these and other mosquito-borne diseases are expected to grow as temperatures and rainfall increase in much of the world, including parts of the U.S.

See the video below for an up-close look at how mosquitoes feed on human blood:

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Tick

Photo: By KPixMining/Shutterstock

Ticks are some of the most prolific vampires on Earth, capable of drinking up to 600 times their body weight in blood thanks to a stretchable outer shell (pictured at left). They prefer warm, wooded areas near water, and while they rely on a range of tactics to find food — some wait in tall grass, while others hunt for hosts — they all use similarly vicious teeth, claws and feeding tubes to dig in once they find it.

A tick bite won't turn you into a vampire, but it can spread illnesses like Lyme disease, so act quickly if you're bitten — and even after removing the tick with tweezers (pictured at right) and killing it, you may want to keep it for a few days as evidence in case you get sick. (Illustration: CDC)

For more about how ticks transmit Lyme disease, see the video below:

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Lamprey

Drow male/Wikimedia Commons.

Lampreys are ancient, elongated fish that look more like aliens than vampires (or fish, for that matter). They have no jaws, no scales, and spend most of their lives as harmless larvae. It can take up to seven years for one to reach adulthood, but once it does, it becomes a monster: Adult lampreys latch onto a host with their hook-like teeth and gulp down its blood as it swims, unable to defend itself.

Lampreys live in fresh and salty water worldwide, but while they already terrorize their own habitats, they can be even worse as an invasive species. When manmade canals let Atlantic sea lampreys invade the Great Lakes in the 1800s, they outcompeted smaller lake lampreys and decimated native fish, some of which are now extinct. They only attack humans when starved, however — a rare problem for such successful hunters.

Check out the video below for an up-close look at captive sea lampreys:

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Bedbug

Franklin County (Ohio) Board of Health.

As "nest parasites," bedbugs haven't had much trouble following us over the millennia from caves and huts to houses and hotels. They hide in dark, secluded areas during the day — in mattresses, behind walls, under floors — and come out at night to drink blood. An outbreak can spread quickly, since females lay up to five eggs a day and 500 in a lifetime.

Pesticides like DDT nearly wiped out U.S. bedbugs in the 1940s, but they've recently come bouncing back — and not just in tightly packed tenements or cheap motels. From Victoria's Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch to skyscrapers and suburban homes, Americans are increasingly besieged by bedbugs. They're not known to spread disease, but they can spur anxiety and anguish thanks to their painful bites and persistent infestations.

Watch the video below to learn more about how bedbugs attack:

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Kissing bug

Arizona Department of Health Services.

Their name may not sound very scary, but "kissing bugs" can be even worse than bedbugs. They're bigger and more aggressive, for example, and often bite people's faces to drink their blood. They attack while you're asleep, but unlike bedbugs, they can also spread disease — namely the parasite that causes Chagas disease.

Chagas is most common in Latin America, and while U.S. outbreaks are rare, kissing bugs have still caused trouble lately in Southwestern states like Arizona and Texas. Aside from spreading Chagas, their bites can spur allergic reactions including swollen-shut eyes, blistered skin, breathing difficulties and even seizures. The best way to control kissing bugs and other so-called "assassin bugs" is to close any entry points to a house, such as gaps under doors, windows and walls.

To see how brutal assassin bugs can be, check out this video of them attacking bats, including a fellow vampire:

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Leech

Photo: By Martin Pelanek/Shutterstock

Leeches are related to earthworms, but most are a bit more vicious than their dirt-dwelling cousins. Some are ambush predators, lying in wait for victims like slugs and snails, while others are blood-sucking parasites.

The best-known of these is the European medical leech (pictured), which has been used in human health care for millennia. It fell out of favor in the 1800s along with bloodletting, but it's making a comeback now as a way to control blood flow in some medical procedures. Since it injects anticoagulants as it bites, a leech can reduce clotting, relieve pressure and spur circulation after surgery. The blood thinner hirudin is taken from leeches' salivary glands, and synthetic versions have now been made with its chemical blueprints. Leeches are also used in traditional medicine in India, where many believe they remove tainted blood from the body (see the video below for more).

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Flea

kat m research/Flickr.

Most bloodsuckers flee after stealing a meal, but not fleas. Rather than commuting to and from a host like mosquitoes or bedbugs, fleas often just hang out in its fur. They're well-suited to this lifestyle, thanks to thin bodies that help them slink through fur, hard shells that make them difficult to crush, and spring-loaded legs that let them jump 7 inches high and 13 inches across (see the video below for more on flea acrobatics). In human terms, that would be like leaping 250 feet high and 450 feet across.

Different flea species target specific hosts — there's a dog flea, cat flea, rat flea and even human flea — although they're not averse to mixing it up, as many pet owners can attest. That's how rat fleas spread bubonic plague around Europe during the Middle Ages, and still do in some parts of the world.

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Louse

Gilles San Martin/Flickr.

Like fleas, lice are parasitic bugs that live on their hosts, but they're even more specialized — not only do certain lice target certain animals, but they even target certain parts of certain animals. Take the three species that bite people, for example: head lice (pictured), body lice and pubic lice. Each one preys on its own distinct niche in the human body, often swarming in one area while virtually absent everywhere else.

The problem of head lice in schools has given that species more notoriety, but body lice are the only ones that spread disease. Typhus, trench fever and relapsing fever can all be transmitted by body lice, although in the U.S. they're mostly found among homeless people or others who don't have access to regular bathing or changes of clean clothes.

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Vampire finch

Screen capture from National Geographic video.

The Galapagos Islands' 14 finch species were so crucial to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution that they've been dubbed "Darwin's finches." But more recent voyages have shown that a few of them are Dracula's finches, too.

The sharp-beaked ground finch normally eats seeds, and often abandons arid areas for more hospitable spots during the dry season. But one of its subspecies stays on two arid islands all year, supplementing its diet of seeds with a feast of blood. Known as "vampire finches," they have a unique strategy for stealing blood from seabirds: They pick at wounds on the larger birds' backs, just enough to keep the injuries open and the blood flowing, but not so much that their hosts fight back or fly away.

For more on vampire finches' amazing adaptation — and how they manage to get away with it — check out the video below:

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Vampire squid

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

With a Latin name that means "vampire squid from hell," it's safe to say Vampyroteuthis infernalis made a big impression on the first people who saw it. Scientists have even given it its own biological order, "Vampyromorphida," and deservedly so — the vampire squid is one of the most unique and mysterious animals on Earth, even if it's not technically a vampire.

It lives 3,000 feet deep in the ocean, and is thus rarely seen in its natural setting. It's tiny, often just 6 inches long, but has eyes like a large dog's; in fact, it has the biggest eye-to-body-size ratio of any animal, helping it see in the dim abyss. Like many deep-sea denizens, it can also glow and change colors, a trick known as "bioluminescence." It doesn't drink blood, instead earning its name for cape-like webbing it uses as a shield (see video below).

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'Chupacabra'

Eric Gay/AP.

While the previous 12 vampires have all been documented by scientists, this one's different. The chupacabra (Spanish for "goat sucker") is a mythical creature like Bigfoot, and although alleged sightings are common, its existence is unproven. But that hasn't slowed speculation — as with Bigfoot, the chupacabra's mystique only adds fuel to its fame.

The legend dates back decades, but it went viral in the 1990s after hundreds of dead farm animals were found in Puerto Rico, drained of their blood. Chupacabra tales soon spread around the world, to Mexico, the U.S. and even Russia. Most captured chupacabras turn out to be mangy dogs or coyotes (pictured), but some believers say the real thing may be an alien pet left behind by space travelers, or even an alien-animal hybrid made by NASA.

For more about chupacabras and other creatures of questionable existence, check out the video: