While blood-sucking vampires like Dracula are a work of fiction, there are actually animals that drink blood. The act of consuming blood is known as hematophagy, and is a common practice for certain animals. In this article we will look at 15 animals that drink blood, learn a bit about them and what hosts they target when they want to feed.
15 Animals That Drink Blood
You are probably wonder why certain animals and insects would choose blood as part of their diet. Blood is rich lipids and proteins, so it is actually quite nutritious. For some animals this is an easy way to get the nutrition they need and blood makes up their whole diet. For others it is a way to supplement their diet with nutrients that may be harder to come by in their environment.
Here is a list of 15 blood-drinking animals and where you can find them. Some you might know about, while others may surprise you.
Scientific family: Culicidae
Mosquitoes might be the most well-known blood suckers. Contrary to popular belief, only the female mosquito bites animals and people to feast on blood. Both sexes drink sugar and nectar for energy. This is enough for the male to live on. Females however need the extra lipids and proteins found in blood to produce and lay their eggs. When the mosquito bites, it injects saliva with anticoagulant properties into its host to prevent the blood from clotting as they drink.
Unfortunately viruses and parasites carried by mosquitoes can be passed to humans through this injection of saliva and cause illnesses such as West Nile virus, Malaria and Zika virus. You can find mosquitos in every country worldwide, including the Arctic mosquito that can survive the cold weather of tundra habitats.
2. Eastern Bloodsucking Conenose
Scientific name: Triatoma sanguisuga
The eastern bloodsucking conenose bug is a member of the “kissing bug” family and can be found in North America and Latin America. In the U.S. they are most common in the southeastern states. These conenose’s are 1-inch long, black with red bands along their sides. Most are out of sight during the day, then emerge at night to feed on the blood of mammals such as cats, raccoons, rats and even humans.
Kissing bugs get their name because they seem to favor biting people on the face and around the mouth. Their bites are not very painful, just irritating. However, you don’t want a kiss from them, especially since this species is a known carrier of a parasite that causes Chagas disease. This disease can damage your central nervous system and heart.
Scientific order: Siphonaptera
Fleas are tiny flightless insects that can leap up to 200 times their body length. They survive by drinking blood and will leap from host to host. Fleas will feed off of many small mammals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, squirrels and rats, as well as birds. They have a narrow shape that almost makes them appear flattened. This aids them in burrowing through fur and feathers to latch onto skin before piercing it for blood.
If your dog or cat has ever had fleas, you know they can be a real pain to get rid of and seem to multiply quickly. Fleas will lay their eggs either directly on the host animal, or in their nest / burrow. If a pet brings fleas into the house they can spread quickly as the eggs laid on the pet can easily fall off into carpet and bedding where they will form new colonies. There are around 2,5000 flea species worldwide and they prefer habitats that are humid, shady, and moist.
4. Hood Mockingbird
Scientific name: Mimus macdonaldi
So far we have only mentioned insects, but they aren’t the only type of animal that drinks blood. So can birds! The hood mockingbird is native to Española Island, which is in the the Galápagos’ Islands off the coast of Ecuador. They are known to be very territorial and aggressive. The hood mockingbird is mainly a scavenger that will eat the eggs of seabirds and animal carcasses killed by other predators like hawks. While they don’t injure other animals in order to draw blood, they will drink from an already wounded animal. This occurs mainly with wounds on other birds and sea lions.
It is said they have no fear of humans and will often chase tourists looking for food or water. They will also peck at water bottles and shiny objects out of curiosity.
Scientific subclass: Hirudinea
Most leeches lurk in freshwater habitats, such as lakes, marshes and ponds. However, some can be found on land or in marine environments. While there are 650 species of leeches worldwide, around 79 species live in the United States. While different types of leeches feed in different ways, and not always from living hosts, the type of leech most people think of when you say the word “leech” is the blood-sucking leech.
They are smooth, dark colored worms with a sucker on each end of their body. Using mucus and suction they will attach to the skin, and inject the anticoagulant hirudin into the hosts blood to keep it flowing. These types of leeches generally do not harm the host and will fall off once they have had their fill of blood, which can take up to a few hours. Leeches were used for bloodletting in ancient medicine for thousands of years.
6. Cooper’s Nutmeg
Scientific name: Cancellaria cooperii
The Cooper’s nutmeg is a medium to large sea snail living in the eastern Pacific Ocean from central Baja California to Monterey, California. Their main hosts are Pacific electric rays, where they will drink blood from for up to 40 minutes. These snails attach themselves to the rays, cut through the flesh, and wiggle into the wound to start feeding.
7. Common Vampire Bat
Scientific name: Desmodus rotundus
Common vampire bats typically feast on the blood of sleeping livestock such as horses, pigs, and cattle. During their nighttime hunts, they can drink blood from their hosts for around 30 minutes.
Instead of sucking blood, they will use their teeth to create a small cut and lap up the blood that flows out with their tongue. Their tongue contains special grooves that help to catch the blood, and their saliva has anticoagulant properties to keep the blood from clotting while they feed.
Vampire bats don’t like to share their dinner, and will fight off other bats that try to drink from the same animal. These bats are native to Latin America, from Mexico to Chile. They prefer warm, humid climates and roost in trees, caves and abandoned buildings.
Scientists have been studying why vampire bats are the only mammals that can survive on a diet of 100% blood. Blood is a terrible food source but these bats make it work somehow.
8. Sea lamprey
Scientific name: Petromyzon marinus
Blood-sucking sea lampreys are eel-like creatures with seven gills and two dorsal fins. They typically live in marine habitats along the Atlantic Coast of America and Europe, but will swim up freshwater rivers to breed. Special systems in their body allow them to tolerate a wide variety of salinities and make the switch between salt and freshwater.
These jawless fish have a file-like tongue and large rounded sucking mouth, ringed with tiny sharp teeth. They latch onto other fish with their teeth and use their mouth like a suction cup to shuck away the flesh and pierce into the hosts body with their sharp toothed tongue. A fluid called lamphredin is produced in their mouth to prevent blood clotting. Their victims typically die from either blood loss or infection.
Sea lampreys are an invasive species in the Great Lakes where they have seriously damaged the trout population.
Scientific name: Vandellia cirrhosa
The candiru is a tiny species of catfish, growing around 1-inch long and native to the Orinoco and Amazon rivers. This parasitic fish attacks other fish for their blood by swimming into their gills and anchoring themselves to the insides. They have eel-like bodies with a transparent appearance, allowing them to sneak up on their hosts easily.
Scientific suborder: Ixodida
Ticks are small parasitic bugs that can range from one-eighth of an inch to five-eighths and expand when they are full of blood. They drink blood from cold and warm-blooded animals, including birds, dogs, reptiles, and humans. Blood is the only food they consume. They cannot fly or jump, rather they find their hosts by “questing”. During questing, the tick clings to a leaf or blade of grass with their back legs, and hold their front legs outstretched. When a host animal brushes by, the tick can immediately grab hold then climb on the body.
Tick saliva has proteins with anti-inflammatory properties that soothe the bite area so much that most hosts don’t feel they have been bitten. This allows the tick to stay latched onto the host drinking blood for several days. Once full the tick will dislodge itself.
Some species can also carry bacterial infections and diseases, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. They can be found in most countries worldwide, typically in mountainous, wooded, and grassy areas.
11. Vampire ground finch
Scientific name: Geospiza difficilis septentrionalis
The vampire ground finch is a bird adapted to drinking blood as a diet supplement. Native to the Galápagos Islands, they sometimes feed on the blood of seabirds, such as the blue-footed or Nazca boobies. Interestingly enough, the seabirds don’t mind being pecked at until there’s blood.
Scientists believe this blood drinking may have developed “by accident”. The vampire ground finch originally pecked at the boobies to remove insects from their feathers and accidentally drew blood during the process. Today, vampire ground finches will only resort to drinking blood when other insects and seed supplies are scarce and they need that extra nutrition.
Scientific suborder: Rhopalocera
Butterflies are beautiful, colorful insects we commonly associate with vibrant flowers, not bloodsucking! For the most part this is true, with the butterflies main source of food being the nectar they collect from flowers. However, they occasionally have an appetite for blood. Don’t worry, they are unable to bite or sting or inflict any type of wound. They won’t be chasing you around the yard trying to snack on you.
Butterflies have been observed using their proboscis to sip on blood, tears, sweat and liquid dripping from rotting fruit, feces or decaying corpses. Sounds a bit gruesome but all of these fluids contain different minerals, amino acids or sodium that help supplement the butterflies diet. Because the only method of ingesting nutrients butterflies have is to drink liquids, they don’t have a lot of choice in source material. So if they come upon a dead animal or pool of blood, they may stop for a drink.
13. Bed Bugs
The dreaded bed bug can occur in all regions around the world, a known pest to humans for thousands of years. Their diet consists only of blood. Specialized parts in their mouth can cut through skin, then inject painkillers and anticoagulents. While the initial bite may not be felt, the site of the bit will usually develop some types of allergic reaction such as redness, swelling and itch. As their name suggests, mattresses and bedding are common homes for bed bugs. They will come out at night and bite people while they sleep on areas of exposed skin such as the face, legs and arms.
Bed bugs are transported usually through fabrics such as on a persons clothes, backpacks or luggage, and furniture like beds and couches. They may sound a lot like fleas, however they are not known to breed in animal hair and while they may bite pets, pets are not known to be carriers.
14. Vampire Moth
This species of moth got its common name, the vampire moth, by its observed habit of males drinking blood from vertebrate animals. They can be found in Malaysia, the Urals and parts of southern and northern Europe. Their proboscis is specially developed to be able to penetrate the skin of animals, and they rock it back and forth against the skin to create the puncture. It is thought that this puncturing ability may originally have developed to pierce through fruit with tough skin. They will sometimes drink from humans, and while it leaves an itchy rash it does not cause damage.
Scientific family: Buphagidae
Oxpeckers are birds native to Africa. There are currently two species oxpecker, the yellow-billed and red-billed. The yellow-billed oxpecker is found in the sub-Saharan region and the red-billed oxpecker found in eastern Africa.
These birds consume ectoparasites (ticks, fly larvae, and other insects) off the skin of large mammals such as cattle, giraffes, zebras and impalas. While this sounds like a mutually beneficial relationship, in recent years oxpeckers have been classified more as parasites themselves. They drink the blood of the animal left by wounds and insect bites, and will peck at the wound and make it worse to get more blood. I guess that free bug removal comes with a cost!