Kissing Bats 5/31/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

At half past one in the morning, I am watching a comedy desperately trying to think of a topic for my blog. Frankly, the news is too dark for three posts in a row. Today, riots are continuing with reports that it is being inflamed by white supremacists and the extreme right (or maybe it should be the “extreme white”), the president has announced withdraw from the World Health Organization at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic, unemployment and the economy is still struggling, and oh My GAWD let it stop.

With a day filled with continuing stories that are critically important and historically heavy, I did read one fun little article. Biologists have recorded vampire bats as they were, as the scientists described it, participating in an activity that is highly reminiscent of “French kissing”. Just on the outside chance that one of my readers is not familiar with this term, “French kissing” is kissing with tongue play, caressing tongues, inserting them into each other’s mouth, just all kinds of things that when described in a blog like this one sounds completely repulsive and inappropriate during a pandemic. Still, though, French Kissing is just, oh gawd, it’s just amazing. I think. At least if memory serves. I mean, it has been a very long time, but I seem to recall enjoying it tremendously.

Back to the bats. Vampire bats are a special type of bat (three species, in fact) that survive on a diet consisting exclusively on blood (hematophagy). Well, and water, I’m sure. Every living creature with the exception of viruses (which are arguably not actually alive; it is an active debate) require water to survive. Actually, I wonder about this “fact” since I seem to be surviving just fine on diet cola, but that’s another story.

It kind of makes sense that these bats can survive exclusively on blood. After all, blood brings all nutrients necessary for life to cells throughout the body, so it would make sense that blood contains all necessary nutrients to sustain life if, indeed, that life has evolved for this specific diet. Although there is no reason these bats wouldn’t eat human blood, they often (as I understand it, usually) feed on cattle; cows and hogs. The process is quite fascinating. As might be expected, they prefer animals that are still, or, in a simpler vernacular, asleep. When mosquitoes bite, they actually inject a kind of local anesthetic, so the host doesn’t feel the bite. It’s a reaction to this chemical that causes the red itchy welts after the mosquito is long gone. Bats, on the other hand, do not. Instead, they rely on exceptionally sharp teeth, so sharp, in fact, that they don’t wake the sleeping host. And rather than actually “biting” the host, the bat actually kind of scrapes the skin with their teeth. The amount of blood actually released is about a single drop of blood which is then lapped up by the bat.

Vampire bats must eat about once every three days, or they may starve to death. The biologists who discovered the behavior have reported that this “French kissing” is done with blood that may or may not be partially regurgitated, not dissimilar to the way that a bird will feed its young. They’ve hypothesized that this, at least in part, helps to keep each other alive. They have also suggested that this behavior has emotional benefit, bringing the bats closer together. The behavior seems to be primarily between bats that are emotionally close to each other, although eventually includes “strangers” as well.

We, you and I, aren’t so different. Do you remember back when you kissed somebody important to you for the very first time? Do you remember how nervous you were? Do you remember the taste of that first kiss? For many of us (myself included), there was a distinct flavor of iron. This is because when you’re nervous, physiological changes cause micro-amounts of blood to leak from your gums or so I have been told. You’re tasting blood as you kiss, and if you are fortunate enough that it was a French kiss, then you’re basically a vampire bat. That’s not a bad thing, vampire bats are SO cute!!!

I’ve heard that a kiss is an attempt to take in the essence of your partner. I’ve also heard it described as sucking on the sweet end of thirty feet of intestine. That second quote was from the Drew Carey Show (1995 to 2004), but being the romantic that I am, I like the first quote better. Kissing does bring you closer together. The common shared experience, the passionate embrace, the release of endorphins; kissing must be one of the greatest pleasures in this life. I truly hope I’ll have the opportunity to suck on that sweet end of intestine again in my lifetime.

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