At Bat

Belzeebud, New Demon
Bat & the Vampire’s Kiss

For all the irrational fear and centuries of literature inspired by vampire bats, there has been only one death ever in the U.S. caused by their bites. And it happened last year.
Even though the Mexican teenager died after working in a scorching sugar plantation in Louisiana, authorities say he was probably bitten before entering this country.
He died of rabies, a potential fatal infection mainly carried by bats, which are becoming increasingly common in this country.
Going back to the fantastic literature of gore, rabies may be the original connection between vampires and their arch-enemies, werewolves, since dogs are also carriers of the disease.
In fact, much of the resilience of the myth of the blood sucker may reside at the confluence of ignorance about the nature of infection and contagion, and pure fantasy.
Never mind antibiotics. Just remember that doctors started washing their hands before medical procedures on a consistent basis only at the dawn of the 20th century.
In the meantime, researchers are at bat trying to solve the puzzle of the white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal pandemic that’s been decimating colonies throughout North America.
Curiously, it’s non-lethal everywhere else but here. It’s also only harmful to cave-hibernating bats but it can bite us way beyond our pretty little necks, since all affected species are insect-eaters.
In fact, one of the greatest ecological contributions from bats is hardly ever acknowledged. We simply could not survive the catastrophic bug onslaught caused by their eventual demise. Besides the agricultural devastation that their loss would precipitate, there would also be an exponential increase of insect-carried transmissible diseases in humans.
Think about that next time you see footage of a disoriented bat flapping its wings inside a jetliner. It may be funny and little scary to us, but for the poor thing, it’s very likely the end of the line.
Even as the scientific knowledge slowly distances itself from the murky world of pagan mythology, bats remain forever associated with superhuman and mythical qualities.
To this day, even to name a new species can be a reflection of the allure of such ancient beliefs. For example, the Murina Beelzebub, a newly discovered tiny bat from Vietnam.
With so much fear and misinformation about these animals, one wonders why choosing a name that’s associated with the biblical Lord of the Flies himself?
Nowhere in the description of the new creature is said that it’s named as an attempt to raise awareness to its vulnerability to deforestation, or to ward off potential threats from impoverished communities who share their territory.
No, the explanation actually goes to great lengths connecting the name given to the fanged new comer to its “fierce protective behavior” in the field.
So Beelzebud will be. Demon, for short, as it’s been already nicknamed on the local media. So much for scientific enlightenment.
Perhaps what happened in Arad, Romania, the other week may have had something to do with it. But only if you believe in a certain merciless count who lived long ago in the region, then called Transylvania.
It happened to students arriving to take a test at their high school on a Friday morning. Right there someone could have thought whether there was ever a better excuse brought up by high schoolers in order not to take a test.
According to reports, as they walked into their classroom, dozen of bats were flying around, flapping wings, squeaking, doing the sort of thing one would expect a bat of the non-supernatural kind, would do.
There were even some who appeared to be sleeping with their wings spread out on the floor. And, just to make sure you’re paying attention, this was in broad daylight.
But what seems unusual to us, or slightly unsettling if you’ve read Bram Stoker, may be a common occurrence in the land of Vlad the Impaler. School officials, for example, were not impressed: students still had to take the exam, but rather than disturb the bats, they were moved to another room.

Finally, against the above mentioned centuries of horror literature, here’s a practical example that bats, unlike humans, have a lot more positive things to offer, than the blood-spilling tales they usually ignite in our collective imagination.
New research has shown that stroke victims can be helped if administered a compound made from the saliva of vampire bats. Now you know why characters of the cable series True Blood are so fond of kissing each other. It’s all for medical research, you see?
But seriously, the component found in the bat spit can prevent irreversible brain damage in stroke victims by dissolving blood clots, exactly like drugs already in the market do.
The difference is that, while such drugs need to be taken within four hours of the episode, the new compound extends that window up to nine hours. That’s crucial to those who suffer a stroke while sleeping.
Not bad for a nightly vampire kiss, isn’t?

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