Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Critters of the Night
A Taste for Blood
Great article about creatures that survive by drinking blood and a recent book ("Dark Banquet") by Bill Shutt. It starts in the office of a friend of mine, Lou Sorkin:
...With his soft voice and friar’s manner, Louis Sorkin hardly seems the type to flout the sensible advice of a nursery rhyme. Yet on a recent afternoon at the American Museum of Natural History, Mr. Sorkin, a renowned entomologist, did precisely, luridly that...He took a glass jar swarming with thousands of hungry specimens of Cimex lectularius, better known as bedbugs. The small, roachy-looking bloodsuckers have been spreading through the nation’s homes and hotels at such a hyperventilated pace that by next year they are expected to displace cockroaches and termites as America’s leading domestic pest insect. To better understand their habits, Mr. Sorkin has cultivated a personal bedbug colony — very personal...
Lou keeps a jar full of bedbugs that he feeds with his own bug. As described in the article, the jar is capped with a fine meshed screen fine enough to keep the infects entrapped, but open enough to allow them to poke their beaks through to feed. Lou, being a dedicated entomologist offers them his arm.
Shutt points out features that blood drinking organisms have in common:
...the hatpin teeth, the natural clot busters and pain deadeners...Blood feeders must also be stealthy and wily and good at escaping the swats and fury of their often much larger hosts...
As blood is a poor source of nutrition, most vampiric animals are arthropods, who can subsist on small meals.
There's a lot on the famous and legendary vampire bats in the article, but perhaps the most nightmarish beast is the Candiru fish of the Amazon. If you're visiting the Amazon--whatever you do--don't pee in a stream:
...The only other vertebrates known to subsist solely on blood are certain types of candiru, a poorly studied but floridly feared group of inchlong catfish found in the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers. A hematophagous candiru’s usual modus is to parasitize a larger catfish, infiltrating the host’s gill slits, grasping onto the flesh inside, rupturing blood vessels, pumping out the blood with its highly mobile jaws and then, after a minute or two, darting out again. Yet for at least a century, the fish have been reputed to target the human urethra as well, supposedly enticed by the scent of urine: fish, after all, urinate through their gills. Despite the antiquity and persistence of the legend, there is only one confirmed case, from 1997, of a candiru making its way into a human urethra, where it probably had no time for a blood meal before suffocating to death...
(Image: Temple of the Fluke Man)