1902 Encyclopedia > Vampire


VAMPIRE, a term, apparently of Servian [Serbian] origin (wampir), originally applied in eastern Europe to bloodsucking ghosts, but in modern usage transferred to one or more species of blood-sucking bats inhabiting South America.

In the first-mentioned meaning a vampire is usually supposed to be the soul of a dead man which quits the buried body by night to suck the blood of living persons. Hence, when the vampire’s grave is opened, his corpse is found to be fresh and rosy from the blood which he has thus absorbed. To put a stop to his ravages, a stake is driven through the corpse, or the head cut off, or the heart torn out and the body burned, or boiling water and vinegar are poured on the grave. The persons who turn vampires are generally wizards, witches, suicides, and persons who have come to a violent end or have been cursed by their parents or by the church. But any one may become a vampire if an animal (especially a cat) leaps over his corpse or a bird flies over it. Sometimes the vampire is thought to be the soul of a living man which leaves his body in sleep, to go in the form of a straw or fluff of down and suck the blood of other sleepers. The belief in vampires chiefly prevails in Slavonic lands, as in Russia (especially White Russia and the Ukraine), Poland, and Servia [Serbia], and among the Czechs of Bohemia and the other Slavonic races of Austria. It became specially prevalent in Hungary between the years 1730 and 1735, whence all Europe was filled with reports of the exploits of vampires. Several treatises were written on the subject, among which may be mentioned Ranft’s De Masticatione Mortuorum in Tumulis (1734) and Calmet’s Dissertation on the Vampires of Hungary, translated into English in 1750. It is probable that this superstition gained much ground from the reports of those who had examined the bodies of persons who had been buried alive though believed to be dead, and was based on the twisted position of the corpse, the marks of blood on the shroud and on the face and hands, -- results of the frenzied struggle in the coffin before life became extinct. The belief in vampirism has also taken root among the Albanians and modern Greeks, but here it may be due to Slavonic influence.

Head of Desmodus rufus image

Fig. 1 -- Head of Desmodus rufus

Two species of blood-sucking bats (the only species known) -- Desmodus rufus and Diphylla ecaudata -- representing two genera (see MAMMALIA, vol. xv. p. 415), inhabit the tropical and part of the subtropical regions of the New World, and are restricted to South and Central America. They appear to be confined chiefly to the forest-clad parts, and their attacks on men and other warm-blooded animals were noticed by some of the earliest writers. Thus Peter Martyr (Anghiera), who wrote soon after the conquest of South America, says that in the Isthmus of Darien there were bats which sucked the blood of men and cattle when asleep to such a degree as to even kill them. Condamine, a writer of the 18th century, remarks that at Borja (Ecuador) and in other places they had entirely destroyed the cattle introduced by the missionaries. Sir Robert Schomburgk relates that at Wicki, on the river Berbice, no fowls could be kept on account of the ravages of these creatures, which attacked their combs, causing them to appear white from loss of blood. The present writer, when in South and Central America, had many accounts given him as to the attacks of the vampires, and it was agreed upon by most of his informants that these bats when attacking horses showed a decided preference for those of a grey color. It is interesting to speculate how far the vampire bats may have been instrumental -- when they were, perhaps, more abundant -- in causing the destruction of the horse, which had disappeared from America previous to the discovery of that continent.

Although these bats were known thus early to Europeans, the species to which they belonged were not determined until about fifty years ago, several of the large frugivorous species having been wrongly set down as blood-suckers, and named accordingly. Thus the name Vampyrus was suggested to Geoffrey and adopted by Spix, who also con sidered that the long-tongued bats of the group Glossophagae were addicted to blood, and accordingly described Glossophaga soricina as a very cruel blood-sucker (sanguisuga crudelissima), believing that the long brush-tipped tongue was used to increase the flow of blood. Vampyrus spectrum, L., a large bat inhabiting Brazil, of sufficiently forbidding aspect, which was long considered by naturalists too be thoroughly sanguivorous in its habits, and named accordingly by Geoffroy, has been shown by the observations of modern travellers to be mainly frugivorous, and is considered by the inhabitants of the countries in which it is found to be perfectly harmless. Waterton believed Artibeus planirostis, a common bat in British Guiana, usually found in the roofs of houses, and now known to be frugivorous, to be the veritable vampire; but neither he nor any of the naturalists that preceded him had succeeded in detecting any bat in the act of drawing blood. It tell to the lot of Charles Darwin to determine one of the blood-sucking species at least, and the following is his account of the circumstances under which the discovery of the sanguivorous habits of Desmodus rufus was made:-- "The vampire bat is often the cause of much trouble by biting the horses on their withers. The injury is generally not so much owing to the loss of blood as to the inflammation which the pressure of the saddle afterwards produces. The whole circumstances has lately been doubted in England; I was therefore fortunate in being present when one was actually caught on a horse’s back. We were bivouacking late on evening near Coquimbo, in Chili, when my servant, noticing that one of the horses was very restive, went to see what was the matter, and fancying he could detect something, suddenly put his hand on the beast’s withers, and secured the vampire" (Naturalist’s Voyage Round the World, p. 22).

Teeth of Desmodus rufus image

Fig. 2 -- Teeth of Desmodus rufus

Demodus rufus, Weid, the common blood-sucking bat, is widely spread ever the tropical and subtropical parts of Central and South America from Oaxaca to southern Brazil and Chili. It is a comparatively small bat, a little large than the common noctule, the head and body about 3 inches in length, the forearm 2 _, with a remarkably long and strong thumb; it is destitute of a tail, and has a very peculiar physiognomy, well represented in fig. 1 The body is covered with rather short fur of a reddish brown color but varying in shade, the extremities of the hairs sometimes ashy. The teeth are peculiar and characteristic, admirably adapted fort the purposes for which they are employed. The upper front teeth (incisors), of which there are only two, are enormously enlarged (see fig 2), and in shape obliquely triangular like small guillotines. The canines, though smaller than the incisors, are large and sharp; but the back teeth, so well developed in all other bats, are very small and reduced in number to two above and three below, on each side, with laterally compressed crowns rising but slightly above the level of the gum, their longitudinally disposed cutting edges (in the upper jaw) being contiguous with the base of the canine and with each other. The lower front teeth (incisors) are small, bifid, in pairs, are separated from the canines, with a space in front. The lower back teeth are narrow, like those in the upper jaw, but the anterior tooth is slightly larger than the others, and separated by a small space from the canines. Behind the lower incisors the jaw is deeply hollowed out to receive the extremities of the large upper incisors.

With this peculiar there associated as remarkable a departure from the general type in the form of the digestive apparatus. The exceedingly narrow oesophagus opens at right angles into a narrow, intestine-like stomach, which almost immediately terminates on the right, without a distinct pylorus, in the duodenum, but on the left forms a greatly elongated caecum, bent and folded upon itself, which appears at first sight like part of the intestines. This, the cardiac extremity of the stomach, is, for a short distance to the left of the entrance of the oesophagus, still very narrow, but soon increases in size, till near its termination it attains a diameter quite three times that of the short pyloric portion. The length of this cardiac diverticulum of the stomach appears to vary from 2 to 6 inches, the size in each specimen probably depending on the amount of food obtained by the animal before it was captured.

The only other known species of blood-sucking bat, Diphylla ecaudata, Spix, inhabits Brazil, and appears to be much less abundant than Desmodus rufus, from which it is distinguished by its slightly smaller size, by the absence of a groove in the front of the lower lip, by the non-development of the interfemoral membrane in the center, and by the presence of a short calcaneum (absent in D. rufus), but more particularly by the presence of an additional rudimentary back tooth (? Molar) above and below, and by the very peculiar form of the lower incisors, which are much expanded in the direction of the jaw and pectinated, forming a semicircular row touching each other, the outer incisors being wider than the inner ones, with six notches, the inner incisors with three each.

Thus constituted, these bats present, in this extraordinary differentiation of the manducatory and digestive apparatus, a departure from the type of other species of the family (Phyllostomidae) to which they belong unparalleled in any of the other orders of Mammalia, standing apart from all other mammals as being fitted only for a diet of blood, and capable of sustaining life upon that alone. Travellers describe the wounds inflicted by the large sharp-edged incisors as being similar to those caused by a razor when shaving: a portion of the skin is shaved off and, a large number of severed capillary vessels being thus exposed, a constant flow of blood is maintained. From this source the blood is drawn through the exceeding narrow gullet -- too narrow for anything solid to pass -- into the intestine-like stomach, whence it is, probably, gradually drawn off during the slow process of digestion, while the animal, sated with food, is hanging in a state of torpidity from the roof of its cave or from the inner sides of a hollow tree. ( G.E.D.)

The above article was written by Surgeon-Major George Edward Dobson, M.A., M.B., F.Z.S., F.R.S.; late of the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley; author of Monograph of the Asiatic Chiroptera, etc. and A Monograph of the Insectivora, Systematic and Anatomical.

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