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Vampire Moths That Drink Human Blood (With Photos)

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Vampire Moths

Vampire Moths

Moths That Feed on Blood: New Research

It sounds like a horror movie—and not even a very good horror movie—but it's true: there are several moth species flying around out there that have evolved to feed on the blood of mammals (some also feed on tears, but we'll get to that later). But before you start closing the windows and turning off the lights, and maybe burning all your sweaters, read this article.

You'll learn where the moths live, how they find their victims, and why no one is particularly worried about the situation. It's also worth noting that vampire moths are expanding their range and have recently been found in new areas as they spread.

Calyptra thalictri

Calyptra thalictri

Calyptra thalictri, a Moth That Drinks Blood

Calyptra thalictri is a medium-sized, pale brown moth that is very well camouflaged when it rests by day among leaves and branches. It's a member of group of moths that share a common ancestor, the genus Calyptra. Like family members of any kind, they share some features and behaviors, and if you're a member of the genus Calyptra, there's a good chance you and your kin are vampires.

Feeding on blood, it barely needs saying, is very strange behavior for a moth. Nearly all other moths in the world feed on flower nectar or fruit, and many kinds of moth don't even feed—in fact, some don't even a mouth!

Map showing increasing range of C. thalictri

Map showing increasing range of C. thalictri

Recent Data Shows Vampire Moths Expanding Their Range

There's evidence that these moths are becoming more common, and spreading into new areas. C. thalictri is native to much of Asia, from Japan and Korea to China and Malaysia, and new research shows that it is beginning to spread into northern Europe. It was observed in Finland and Sweden within the past decade or so!

It's not unusual for insect species to increase their range, moving into new territories, and with climate change providing warmer lands for colonization, expect appearances from everything from vampire moths to malaria-bearing mosquitoes.

Watch a Vampire Moth in Action

It's not unusual for insect species to increase their range, moving into new territories, and with climate change providing warmer lands for colonization, expect appearances from everything from vampire moths to malaria-bearing mosquitoes.

Calyptra moth about to feed on human blood

Calyptra moth about to feed on human blood

The Genus Calyptra and Their Piercing Mouth-Parts

There are about eight members of the Calyptra moth genus that feed on blood in the wild, and other two or three that typically use their sharp mouth-parts to pierce and feed on fruit, but have happily pierced the skin of researchers in the lab.

These moths just started feeding on human blood when there was no fruit to be had! C. thalictri is one of the fruit-feeding Calyptra species that jabbed and bled a scientist in the lab.

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Closeup of the vampire moth's sharp mouth-parts

Closeup of the vampire moth's sharp mouth-parts

New research shows that the vampire moth is beginning to spread into northern Europe. It was observed in Finland and Sweden within the past decade or so!

Sorry, Girls! Blood Is Only for the Boys!

It turns out that it's only the male Calyptra moths that actually feed on blood; females don't show that behavior. In addition, males often gather to attack mammals in groups, a behavior called "mud-puddling" because it's usually just a bunch of moths or butterflies around a mud puddle, peacefully siphoning up water.

Vampire moths take that same habit and turn it, literally, into a blood feast.

Vampire moth feeding

Vampire moth feeding

Why Drink Blood?

The short answer is that blood is extraordinarily rich in nutrients compared to mud or nectar, but there's a little more to it than that. Researchers think that blood-drinking moths are actually in search of salt, which is hard to come by in their natural world; it's thought that male moths concentrate the salt in the blood they drink and offer it to females as a kind of reward for choosing them as a mate. Kind of like a pricey tennis bracelet for some people.

Salt, by the way, is the same reason that some moths and other insects go for tears, congregating around the eyes of unfortunate cattle in the fields.

Researchers think that blood-drinking moths are actually in search of salt, which is hard to come by in their natural world; it's thought that male moths concentrate the salt in the blood they drink and offer it to females as a kind of reward for choosing them as a mate.

How a Moth Sucks Blood

Unlike a vampire bat (or, for that matter, Dracula), moths do not bite with teeth. The piercing mouth-parts of Calyptra moths are essentially a stiff straw, and it is amazingly strong. Even though they are typically used for piercing the skin of fruit like bananas and mangoes, the sharp end of the moth's proboscis (basically an insect's version of a tongue) can pierce the thick hides of large animals like buffalo and even elephants.

To get at the blood under the skin, the moth lands, uncoils its proboscis, and begins "rocking" to work it into the tough skin, It takes a fair amount of work, but once it's in the moth can stay attached, feeding on blood, for almost a half hour!

A blood-sucker to be concerned about

A blood-sucker to be concerned about

Vampire Moths May Sound Creepy, But Mosquitos Are Much Worse!

If you're stressed about vampire moths and their expanding range, your anxiety is misplaced. The true threat to health and stability is coming in the form of malaria and other diseases spread by mosquitoes, which can be expected to expand their range as climate change makes new areas hospitable to for them.

Mosquitoes that cannot tolerate the cold winters of North America and Northern Europe, for example, may find that a warmer climate in these areas make them suitable places to live and reproduce. Once that happens, the diseases they carry may become a serious issue in places where people have no immunity and the health care system has no experience treating the new illnesses.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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