The poor bat never had a good reputation in the West. Its curious appearance, as well as the fact that it is a flying mammal with very strange habits, which is also a reservoir for a cast of infectious diseases, did little to help it.

There are few places, like China, where the bat enjoys some prestige.

Already Publius Ovid Nason (43 BC – 17) in his Metamorphoses recounted that Hermes, to set an example, punished one of the sinful daughters of King Minias of Boeotia by turning her into a horrifying-looking bat.

The cartoonists Bob Kane (1915-1998) and Milton “Bill” Finger (1914-1974) wanted to transform billionaire Bruce Wayne into that very thing, so that, among other things, he would instill terror in the abject and crazy criminals to fight. Batman was going to be the “lord of the night”.

It is, obviously, an ancient connection motivated, to a large extent, by the appearance of these animals. But also encouraged for centuries both by its way of life and by a peculiar, confusing and imaginative taxonomic characterization that took a long time to be verified.

The Flying Mice of the Night

Contrary to what is usually believed, that bats were considered a manifestation of the vampire was due to a strange association between science, culture and anthropology rather than to Balkan vampire legends.

Although many animals with blood-sucking habits had already been identified and described in the 1750s, it was at that time when the so-called “vampire bats” proliferated in natural history treatises, most of them erroneously characterized as such by mere physical similarity, when the The basis of their diet was not blood.

The existence of those strange “flying mice” of the night that parasitized other animals was used by many intellectuals of the time as “living proof” that vampirism was possible as a way of life for a mammal.

And, on top of that, that surviving by feeding on the blood of others was feasible. It didn’t matter that this link between vampires and blood-sucking bats was the result of a fanciful and decontextualized biology.

We must not lose sight of the fact that, since ancient times, the association between blood, soul and life was assumed to be true.

From South America, not from Romania

All known species of blood-sucking bats come from South America, very far from where the chronicles place the vampires (Eastern Europe, especially). But this was not an obstacle for the builders of legends. Neither did the fact that many species of bats are actually insectivorous and/or frugivorous, and that they were considered “vampires” or “carnivores” by mere mistake.

Part of the fault lay with Carl von Linné -Linnaeus-, who in 1758 erroneously cataloged a new species located in Ecuador: the Vampyrum spectrum. Although today he is known as a “false vampire”, the mistake of the famous naturalist fueled the collective fantasy.

From then on, descriptions of blood-sucking bats proliferated, which were considered especially cruel, evil or insidious beings.

Consequently, bats, which had been loaded with mythologies and fables from the days of Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605) to those of Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), powerfully spurred the imagination of travellers, writers and artists from around the world. the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

That contributed to the expansion among the vulgar of countless errors, not only about the nature and way of life of these mammals, but also, and by mere association of ideas, around the very question of vampirism.

The reality is that only three genera of completely blood-sucking bats are known, all of them traditionally included in the subfamily Desmodontinae. There are studies that have proven that they correspond to a subfamily, the Desmodinae, of the Phyllostomatidae family.

Vampire bat species of these three genera (Desmodus rotundus, Dyphilla ecaudata, and Diaemus youngii), all of which are South American, are more anatomically similar to each other than to any other bat species.

For this reason, zoologists estimate that the habit of feeding on blood could have a specific evolutionary development, which implies that they could share a single ancestor.

The metamorphosis into a bat was not an invention of Bram Stoker

The truth is that the “vampire bats”, as well as the person-bat metamorphosis, endowed any story that a clever narrator put into print with an exotic, disastrous character, highly appreciable for the aesthetics in vogue of gothicism.

Count Dracula did not metamorphose into a bat because it was remotely an intrinsic condition of the Balkan vampirism that inspired him. He did it, rather, through a mechanism of back and forth cultural loans, exchanges, and vulgarizations, which started from considering blood-sucking bats as “vampires.”

And this metamorphosis was not an invention of its creator, the Irishman Bram Stoker (1847-1912), since it was already a commonplace in the travel books of the time.

For example, the explorer and taxidermist Charles Waterton (1782-1865), in his account of his travels through South America, explained that he was looking for places to sleep where “vampire bats” could inhabit, hoping to be their victim in order to narrate in detail their customs.

He was so fascinated by them that he called them “night surgeons” and chased them with a vengeance. In his imaginative experiences, the inspirational channels of many of the vampire tales written from 1850 onwards are noted.

The blood from the mouth was his

The truth is that only the data reworked a posteriori seemed to point in the direction that the Balkan vampire fed exclusively on blood.

In the vast majority of the traditions that have come down to us, it was not the vampirized victims who were said to be bloodless, but rather the mouth of the exhumed vampire that was presented to the eyes of the witnesses with bloody corners of the lips.

But the reality is that the fluids that impregnated the shroud -or that surrounded the corpse-, giving it a disturbingly repulsive appearance, were nothing more than remains of putrilage common to the cadaveric decomposition process.

In the same way, his “ruddy” appearance, and even his unexpected fatness, are manifestations not understood at the time of the cadaveric decomposition process.

But it’s more fun to tell legends. And bats, linked since Antiquity with all kinds of devils, perversions and evil -and poorly characterized by the science of the moment- were an ideal option.

*Francisco Pérez Fernández is Professor of Criminal Psychology, Psychology of Crime, Anthropology and Criminal Sociology and researcher, Camilo José Cela University, Spain. Francisco López-Muñoz is Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Vice-Rector for Research and Science, Camilo José Cela University, Spain.

*This article was published on The Conversation and reproduced here under the creative commons license. Click here to read the original version.

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BBC-NEWS-SRC:, IMPORTING DATE: 2023-07-02 15:40:05


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