Tag Archives: vampire

Vampire bats make friends in captivity — and keep them after release

A new study looking into social bonding dynamics for vampire bats reports that friendships they make in captivity are likely to continue after the animals are released back into the wild.

A tagged Desmodus rotundus bat in the wild.
Image credits Sherri ad Brock Fenton.

While primates are the most iconic group of animals when it comes to social dynamics and friendships, the new study suggests that vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) also form cooperative relationships reminiscent of friendship. The findings also show that social interactions among vampire bats observed in the lab aren’t just a product of them being kept in captivity.

Life’s bat-er with friends

“The social relationships in vampire bats that we have been observing in captivity are pretty robust to changes in the social and physical environment–even when our captive groups consist of a fairly random sample of bats from a wild colony,” said Simon Ripperger of the Museum für Naturkunde, Leibniz-Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science in Berlin, the study’s lead author.

“When we released these bats back into their wild colony, they chose to associate with the same individuals that were their cooperation partners during their time in captivity.”

Together with co-lead author Gerald Carter of The Ohio State University, who has been studying vampire bat social relationships in captivity since 2010, Ripperger wanted to see if relationships the bats established in captivity would survive after release to the wild. The idea, boiled down, was to see if the partnerships these bats would form in the lab were ‘genuine’ or simply the best available at the time (in which case they would break down as the bats started to associate with other individuals).

All in all, the team reports, social interactions in the lab aren’t just an artifact of captivity. Not all relationships formed in captivity survived after release, the team reports. Similar to the human experience, however, cooperative relationships among vampire bats appear to result from a combination of social preferences together with external environment influences or circumstances, the team explains.

For the study, the team needed to record social interactions and networks among wild bats at much better resolutions than before. So, they enlisted the help of colleagues in electrical engineering and computer sciences to develop novel proximity sensors. Lighter than a penny, the new sensors could be carried by the bats without too much hassle and allowed the team to monitor entire social groups with updates a few seconds apart. The final step was to incorporate these observations with data on bat relationships from the lab.

The data showed that reciprocal grooming and food sharing among female bats in captivity (data recorded over 22 months) was a good predictor of whom these females would later interact with in the wild. The researchers report that the findings are consistent with the idea that both partner fidelity and partner switching play a role in regulating the bats’ relationships. In the future, the team wants to gauge how individual differences among bats influence these types of cooperation relationships. They also plan to look into social foraging and whether bats that cooperate within their day roost also go hunting together at night.

“Our finding adds to a growing body of evidence that vampire bats form social bonds that are similar to the friendships we see in some primates,” Carter said. “Studying animal relationships can be a source of inspiration and insight for understanding the stability of human friendships.”

The paper “Vampire bats that cooperate in the lab maintain their social networks in the wild” has been published in the journal Current Biology.

Archaeologists discover Roman-age burial site of “vampire-child”

Archaeologists working in Italy have discovered an unusual burial site — a rock has been inserted into the mouth of the buried person, a practice believed to prevent people from rising from the dead. To make matters even more bizarre, the buried person appears to be a child of approximately 10 years.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s extremely eerie and weird,” said David Soren, a Regents’ Professor in the University of Arizona (UA) School of Anthropology and Department of Religious Studies and Classics. “Locally, they’re calling it the ‘Vampire of Lugnano.'”

A rock was inserted into the mouth of a 10-year-old to keep the deceased child from rising from the grave and spreading malaria, researchers believe. Credit: David Pickel / Stanford University.

Vampires and werewolves may produce successful movies, but in ancient times, people took their mythological monsters very seriously. In several cultures (particularly across Europe), people resorted to so-called vampire burials, which believed to prevent the deceased from rising in the form of a vampire or to prevent an “actual” vampire from returning. These weren’t common by any means, but archaeologists have discovered several examples. Among the practices people resorted to, stuffing a rock into the person’s mouth seems to be the most common. This was also the case at the new discovery.

The discovery was made at La Necropoli dei Bambini, or the Cemetery of the Babies, a fifth-century Roman cemetery for children. The necropolis is notable for dating from a period when a massive malaria outbreak swept the area, killing particularly vulnerable people such as children. The skeletal remains, uncovered by archaeologists from the University of Arizona and Stanford University, along with archaeologists from Italy, belong to such a child, who was probably killed by malaria. Excavation director David Pickel says that this discovery offers a unique insight not only into the outbreak itself — but how the people reacted to it.

“Given the age of this child and its unique deposition, with the stone placed within his or her mouth, it represents, at the moment, an anomaly within an already abnormal cemetery,” Pickel said. “This just further highlights how unique the infant — or now, rather, child — cemetery at Lugnano is.”

The resident people at the time were quite superstitious — we know this because, alongside the graves of children, archaeologists often discovered things like raven talons, toad bones, bronze cauldrons filled with ash and the remains of puppies which appear to be sacrificed.

Previously, the team had also found a 3-year-old girl with stones weighing down her hands and feet, another practice meant to prevent her from rising as an undead. In this case, it seems that people were afraid some children would turn undead and continue spreading the plague.

“We know that the Romans were very much concerned with this and would even go to the extent of employing witchcraft to keep the evil — whatever is contaminating the body — from coming out,” Soren said.

“This is a very unusual mortuary treatment that you see in various forms in different cultures, especially in the Roman world, that could indicate there was a fear that this person might come back from the dead and try to spread disease to the living,” added bioarcheologist Jordan Wilson, a UA doctoral student in anthropology who analyzed the skeletal remains.

For now, researchers are set to carry DNA tests on this new find. Next summer, the archaeologists will return to the site and finish excavations and learn more about this dark time of history.

“It’s a very human thing to have complicated feelings about the dead and wonder if that’s really the end,” Wilson said. “Anytime you can look at burials, they’re significant because they provide a window into ancient minds. We have a saying in bioarchaeology: ‘The dead don’t bury themselves.’ We can tell a lot about people’s beliefs and hopes and by the way they treat the dead.”

New research reveals the origins of the Polish “vampires”

Middle Age Europe was a place ruled by superstition and mythical beliefs – at least some parts of it were. Now, researchers are trying to figure out what made some people in Poland believe there was an ‘outbreak of vampires’ in the 17th and 18th century.

The Vampire, by Philip Burne-Jones, 1897

Archaeologists have discovered surprisingly many burial sites of presumed vampires; people used a variety of practices to stop people from rising from the ground: from placing rocks under their chins and placing sickles across their bodies to tying them up in fetal positions and piercing them with wooden steaks. But until now, very little was known about their origin and what made people believe they were vampires.

This new study, conducted by the University of South Alabama, is the first of its kind. It suggests that unlike some historians believed, the “vampires” were not strangers – all of them were locals. The researchers studied six such graves and over a hundred regular graves, measuring the strontium isotope ratios of their permanent molars. Strontium is an element found in virtually all rocks, but with varying isotope ratios depending on the source.

Their results, which have been published open-access in PLOS ONEmakes the whole situation even more mysterious.  If the victims were locals, then what made the other folk believe they were creatures of the night? Was it something about their social behavior, or did they suffer from some sort of disease? The authors of this study propose a different theory: the alleged vampires were victims of a cholera outbreak.

“People of the post-medieval period did not understand how disease was spread, and rather than a scientific explanation for these epidemics, cholera and the deaths that results from it were explained by the supernatural – in this case, vampires,” said lead researcher Lesley Gregoricka in a press release.

We need even more studies if we want to understand what was it about these people that made others so afraid of them. I think this is the charm and challenge of modern archaeology: it’s not about discovering things as much as it is about understanding how people lived and what made them act the way they did.

dodder_plant

Vampire parasitic plants ‘sweet talk’ victims via DNA communication

dodder_plant

Dodder plant straggling its victim. Photo : Wiki CC0

Every once in a while we get to write about some really crazy mechanisms in nature. One of these is used by a  parasitic plant called the  dodder, which essentially acts like a ‘vampire’ upon its unsuspecting prey. Namely, other plants some of whom are crops, so research into the dodder parasitic mechanism is of great important to food security. A new research found the dodder actually communicates using DNA with its host in order to lower its defenses. A true vampire to the end – it needs an invitation to step in.

A vampire plant

Due to the color and appearance, several other descriptive common names have been used for the plant, including devil’s hair, goldthread, love vine, strangle vine, and witch’s shoelaces. I'd add 'alien scum' to the growing list. Photo: Henderson State University

Due to the color and appearance, several other descriptive common names have been used for the plant, including devil’s hair, goldthread, love vine, strangle vine, and witch’s shoelaces. I’d add ‘alien scum’ to the growing list. Photo: Henderson State University

During summertime, long strands of yellow or orange string tend to form mats that seem to lie on top of other vegetation. The material most often is seen along rivers, creeks, and fields and looks like a wad of hay-string or fly-fishing line, or spaghetti. That’s not pasta, that’s the freaking dodder!

Some call the dodder  (Cuscuta sp.) a vampire plant, because it sucks nutrients from its hosts, but I think alien would describe it better. Seriously, do you know how the dodder infects its hosts? It probes it! Yes, it uses a specialized root called haustoria that penetrates and invades the tissue of the host plant. Water, minerals, and carbohydrates are obtained directly from the host, so the root portion of the dodder dies and the plant separates from the soil, now being entirely dependent on the host plant. Dodder can grow as much as 7.5 cm (3 inches) per day.

Researchers at Virginia Tech closely followed how the dodder interacted with two host plants, Arabidopsis and tomatoes. Previously, studies showed that while the dodder first probes the host with its horrific ‘fangs’, RNA is being exchanged between the dodder and host. The latest findings from Virginia Tech goes to complement this picture with more details. Specifically, the team found that considerable amounts of messenger RNA (mRNA) is being exchanged between the parasite and host. Essentially, the dodder is sweat talking the host into letting it invade it.

“The discovery of this novel form of inter-organism communication shows that this is happening a lot more than any one has previously realized,” Westwood said. “Now that we have found that they are sharing all this information, the next question is, ‘What exactly are they telling each other?'”

Researchers now believe that armed with this new found knowledge they may have stumbled across key information they would allow them to develop targeted pesticides. The dodder can ravage crops like itchweed and broomrape, so there’s a commercial interest.

“The beauty of this discovery is that this mRNA could be the Achilles hill for parasites,” Westwood said. “This is all really exciting because there are so many potential implications surrounding this new information.”

Findings were published on Aug. 15 in the journal Science.

Ancient ‘vampires’ found in Bulgaria

Bulgarian archaeologists have unearthed centuries-old skeletons treated for vampirism: pinned through their chests with iron rods, a practice thought to keep vampires away.

Vampires and mythology

If you thought vampires are only creatures of legend, only to be found in myths, folklore and Hollywood movies, then you might disagree with medieval Bulgarians (and not only). Many European countries, especially eastern ones, believe in undead creatures such as vampires – and keeping them at bay was quite a job.

‘These two skeletons stabbed with rods illustrate a practice which was common in some Bulgarian villages up until the first decade of the 20th century.’, said Bulgaria’s national history museum chief Bozhidar Dimitrov.

Not quite unusual

According to medieval beliefs, people who were really bad during their lives, or whose remains were found to be very well conserved after they died were candidates for becoming vampires – and people from the Middle Ages were really afraid of vampires. Pagan practices to prevent such transformations varied, and most were quite gruesome: including pinning a rod through their chests, decapitating them after death, etc.

But such sites aren’t quite as unusual, as they have been found all over Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and even western countries. According to Dimitrov, in Bulgaria alone there have been found over 100 such skeletons.

“I do not know why an ordinary discovery like that [has] became so popular. Perhaps because of the mysteriousness of the word “vampire,” he said.

Last month, Italian researchers discovered what they believed to be the remains of a female ‘vampire’ in Venice – buried with a brick jammed between her jaws to prevent her feeding on victims of a plague which swept the city in the 16th century.

Count Dracula

The most well known vampire is without a doubt count Dracula; however, few people know that count Dracula was, in fact, a king from Romania (Transylvania) – Vlad Dracul. Though Bram Stoker chose him for his Dracula novel due to some legends of his blood thirst, he was loved by his people and known as a fair king – to the lawful people. With the thieves and criminals, he was as cruel as they get – he had a habit of impaling them, and did the same thing with his enemies.

The myths and folklore behind Halloween’s most popular characters

The spooky Halloween is almost upon us, and the monsters are rubbing their hands, waiting to come out and create chaos and mayhem. But even though kids costume themselves and all, a lot has changed since the early days of Samhaim, the pagan festival from which Halloween originated. In ancient Ireland fairies roamed the streets, playing malicious tricks on everybody who dared to walk at night, witches concocted magic evil potions all around the world, and werewolves came out howling from the forests. But what is the truth behind these myths and legends ? We’ve gathered a bunch of myths and stories, and I’m gonna let you decide what the truth is; if you have the courage, that is…

Vampires

The belief in vampires is as old as man itself, and throughout the years, many cultures have displayed a profound belief in such mythological creatures that feed on the life essence (usually blood) of other beings. Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Romans, even the Greeks – they all believed that when the sun comes down, white skinned phantomatical creatures with long teeth and a thirst for blood come out of their coffins, just waiting to suck the very life out of as much people as possible. Even in the English language, the word “vampire” exists since 1734, but it wasn’t until Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula that the archetypal sophisticated vampire was established.

Dracula, the movie

Dracula was believed to come from Transylvania, a region in Romania; he was a member of an ancient order, called the Order of the Dragon, and ruled Wallachia, a neighboring region as Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Devil). It is still not certain exactly why he is believed to be Dracula, but he was extremely cruel and he did have a thirst for blood – maybe in the literal way too.

Brad Pitt, in one of the most popular modern vampire stories

Other cultures have other vampires, but what’s interesting is that most rituals are actually the same. For example, identifying the coffin of a vampire in a graveyard required walking a virgin stallion through the graveyard; the horse was supposed to balk at the vampire’s tomb. Mirrors are also a good way to discover and ward vampires, because it is commonly believed that they have no reflection. Also, the methods of protection against vampires are pretty much the same: garlic is always good to have around. In some countries, during Halloween, huge piles of garlic are put in every window to prevent unwanted… guests. Staking is the best way to get rid of vampires, that we know of, but it’s also the hardest; vampires are known to be fast and extremely agile, so it’s best to do it during daytime, when they sleep.

Their favorite hang around places are graveyards and churches, but they can get around pretty much everywhere, and they can blend in perfectly when the sun comes down. You’d best keep an eye out for people with white skin and big teeth. There isn’t a special connection between vampires and Halloween, but if you go to the right places, you are bound to see at least a few.

Werewolves

Werewolves are nasty creatures; they were once humans, but now, they periodically or permanently change into antropomorphic animals, most commonly wolves. Lycantropes, as they are also called, become this way after being bitten by another werewolf, or after being placed under a powerful curse. They have the raw power and speed of the wolf, but they also have the intelligence and cunning of the man, which makes them some of the most powerful and feared monsters in the whole world.

In folklore, one of the most common signs of a werewolf is the joining of the eyebrows above the nose – this is the first sign of lycantropy. They were mentioned numerous times in European and African myths, especially in the huge forests in Russia. They were so feared, that people started to begin they wore the taint of the Devil himself, as writes Richard Verstegan (Restitution of Decayed Intelligence, 1628):

[werewolves] are certayne sorcerers, who having annoynted their bodies with an ointment which they make by the instinct of the devil, and putting on a certayne inchaunted girdle, does not only unto the view of others seem as wolves, but to their own thinking have both the shape and nature of wolves, so long as they wear the said girdle. And they do dispose themselves as very wolves, in worrying and killing, and most of humane creatures.

The ancient Greeks wrote some fascinating ideas about werewolves. For example, History’s father, Herodotus wrote that the Neuri, a tribe he places to the north-east of Scythia, were all transformed into wolves once every year for several days, and then changed back to their former shape – a shocking resemblance to other myths. Virgil, one of the most famous Roman poets wrote in a similar fashion. Other reputed people shared stories of werewolves; one of the most shocking was featured in the Satyricon:

“When I look for my buddy I see he’d stripped and piled his clothes by the roadside…He pees in a circle round his clothes and then, just like that, turns into a wolf!…after he turned into a wolf he started howling and then ran off into the woods.”

Werewolves are vulnerable to almost nothing. The only thing known to cause serious damage to them is silver. A silver blade, or a silver bullet will be deadly, but some reports claim that the mere touch of the metal will cause severe burns to the werewolf.

Werewolves like to hand around forests and farms, they cry out like wolves and are drawn by fullmoon. However, Halloween seems to draw them out more than a fullmoon, and at times, they even come out in packs, striking their victims without giving them any hope whatsoever.

Witches

Basically speaking, witches are people who practice witchcraft – and they love Halloween more than any other day of the year. Witchcraft was given a really awkward reputation during the dark ages, when Christianity ruled Europe, and when they ruled witchcraft as a criminal offense that should be punished by death. Speaking of it, there was quite a special way in which it was usually determined if somebody (usually women) was a witch. They tied her to some logs and/or rocks, and if she floated, she was a witch and had to die. If she sunk, and died, she wasn’t a witch, and… well, that’s that.

Witchcraft was common absolutely everywhere in the world. You’ve got shamans, voodoo people, warlocks and even necromancers, in one variation or another on every continent in every corner of the world. There are in fact so many types of alleged witches that it is practically impossible to catalogue them all; there are even stories (though not very many) of good witches, that use spells and potions to benefit others. Most however, are malitious at least, or evil at worst.

Halloween and witches are connected at every level. At first, Samhain (the celebration that originated Halloween) marks the end of the third and final harvest, but also the time when the Crone goddess mourns the death of the old God. It is the time when all the dead souls return to her cauldron of life and death, awaiting to be reincarnated. It is these souls that make the witches’ powers tenfold in the night of Halloween, so this is why they have very special plans for tonight. The Witches greatest Sabbath is scheduled for Halloween night, and even though you may not see witches that often, that’s because they like to stay hidden, waiting and plotting in the dark, waiting for the day they will finally be able to take their rightful place in the world.

Fairies

“Fairy” has different etymologies and different meanings in different languages. Despite today’s common belief that fairies are good natured and helpful (a belief largely promoted by Peter Pan), folklore tells us a somewhat different story. Usually, they are some sort of demons or undead beings, while in other stories they are elementals or air spirits.

Still, fairies are not evil, but rather malitious. A fairy will never try to throw the world in darkness, but may steal a baby every now and then, but usually they just known for their mischief and malice, playing everyday planks on people. Cold iron is the most common protection against fairies, which could come quite in handy, because in most legends they are not the small benevolent winged beings you might know, but would be rather a large, glowing figure.

As with many other mythological creatures, they are drawn in large numbers on Halloween, so usual light pranks may turn into a big ordeal on Samhain. There is however another belief, that fairies gather on Halloween to protect people from other malevolent spirites, such as witches or goblins. Either way, their intent and wishes are not yet clear, and maybe this Halloween will show us more clearly what fairies are like.

Zombies

Yeah, we know zombies. They may be slow, but they’re hard to stop, and they’re nasty. Halloween draws out more zombies than ever. It’s not quite clear if they come out because of all the spiritual energy of the day, of they are somehow summoned by witches or other spellcasters, but one thing’s for sure: zombies are the centerpiece of Halloween.

There aren’t many old legends and folklore about zombies, except for Haitian and other cultures that practiced voodoo. There have been many studies regarding the phenomenon, including medical research, the most famous of which was conducted by Wade Davis, a Harvard ethnobotanist, but zombies have gotten a lot of attention in modern culture, and this Halloween we’ll be definitely hearing a lot from them.

Demons

Demons are the top of the piramid when it comes to evil. They are at the core of every evil doing, and are responsible for every major plan concocted by supernatural creatures. Present in every mythology, as well as Christianity or Islamism, demons can rarely enter our plain of existence though.

However, Halloween is the time to be a demon. It is said that during this day, portals open that bound every plain of existance, so demons can enter freely in our world, given the right conditions. These conditions usually have to be fulfilled by lesser evils.

The legends and folklore about demons are so many you can’t fully characterize demons; some say they are fallen angels, some say they are evil powerful spirits, while others claim they are just energy, without a body of their own, waiting for one to possess. Either way, the word around the demon world is that they’re planning something big this Halloween, so best keep an eye out.

[These are just myths and folklore, tied together by figments of my immagination. Hope you had fun reading this post, I definitely did writing it. And have a happy bloody Halloween !]

So-called vampire found in mass grave

Whether it’s due to novels and movies or some morbid fascination, more and more people seem to be fascinated about vampires. Still, when people first started to believe in them, things were quite different from now.

For example, instead of drinking blood, it was believed that they chewed on their shrouds of people that died, and at that time, it seemed that was how the plague was spreading (or at least it was an idea). To prevent them from doing this, grave diggers put a brick in their mouth. This was probably caused by the fact that sometimes blood is expelled from the mouths of the dead, which causes shroud to sink inwards and tear.

Now Matteo Borrini of the University of Florence in Italy found such a skeleton with a brick in its mouth while excavating some graves of plague victims from the Middle Ages near Venice. According to his claims, this the first vampire that was examined forensically.

Still, there are those who oppose this idea, such as Peer Moore-Jansen of Wichita State University in Kansas. He claims he has found similar skeletons in Poland, and he says that while this finding is in fact very exciting, “claiming it as the first vampire is a little ridiculous”. The response was short but firm: it’s the earliest grave to show “exorcism evidence against vampires”.