I Saw a Vampire!

Although it’s a bit of a stretch from what this blog is normally about (and late for Halloween), this is too good not to post.  I just got the photos from my friend Carol Beardmore that she took this summer on the Western Field Ornithologists / Sonoran Joint Venture expedition to the Sierra de Alamos / Rio Cuchujaqui Protected Area near Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Carol and I were stationed for a week at El Cajon, a mid-elevation site in the tropical deciduous forest, where temperatures reached 115 degrees on several days when we were there.  To beat the heat in the afternoons, we headed to an amazing swimming hole about a mile from camp, where a large, deep, permanent pool of sparkling blue water stretched back into a flooded slot canyon.  Swimming back into the shade of the canyon, we would find the water getting quite cold in a hurry, and before long the canyon got so narrow that we could touch both walls at once — but not the bottom, because the water was far too deep.  A little farther on, the canyon widened out again and a beach appeared on one side below a shallow cave at the bottom of the cliff.  Getting out of the water, we saw the hallmark of the inhabitants of the cave:

Vampire bat guano, Sonora, Mexico, 7/1/2010. Photo by Carol Beardmore.

Vampire bat guano is unmistakable: it’s the red-black color of dried blood, and it’s viscous, sticky, and pungent.  The walls of the cave were liberally stained with this stuff, so we knew that vampires slept here.  And when we approached the cave (really only a shallow grotto, no more than a couple of meters deep), a few bats flew out.  It took multiple visits over a couple of days — and an inner-tube float trip with the camera equipment in a plastic garbage bag — but eventually, with Carol operating the camera and me holding the flashlight, we managed to get one of the cave’s residents to pose for a photo:

Common Vampire Bat (Desmodus rotundus), Sonora, Mexico, 7/1/2010. Photo by Carol Beardmore (click to enlarge).

Of the three species of vampire bat, this one is the most widespread and occurs closest to the United States.  It has been increasing in numbers and apparently expanding its range north in recent years, especially since humans have brought in large numbers of cattle, a favorite vampire food (beverage?).

For the record, this is the primary reason that I slept under a net while we were in Sonora.

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