I’ve been finding time to do a lot of reading the last few weeks, so I have three books down. Three very different, but educational, books.
In Dark Banquet we learn about animals who feed on the blood of othe rs. The most famous and fascinating of those is the vampire bat. Bill Schutt is a bat biologist, who has trekked through swamps and jungles in pursuit of his subjects. However, he has to admit that very little is known about the lives of vampire bats. There are three vampire bat species. Thanks to human superstition and fear, they have been persecuted instead of studied. Schutt provides about as much knowledge as there is about these creatures. Vampire bats are physiologically well adapted to a challenging lifestyle. Their feeding habits have led to a unique digestive system and metabolism. They are also exteremely intelligent, learning, for example, to obtain an easy meal from chickens by mimicing chicks. They are ( no the most attractive of bats (that honor would go to the fruit bat), but they can be cute in their own way.
Compared to some of the other heroes of Dark Banquet, vampire bats are irresistably cuddly. Schutt also discusses parasitic vampires like ticks, mites, chiggers and bedbugs. These pests spread itchiness and disease, and thrive among human populations. Bedbugs in particular are a horrifying menace. They are very small and very mobile. They make homes wherever there is dark space to hide. They are diffucult to exterminate. They are everywhere – inside the walls, inside your furniture, in your luggage, in your clothes, under the carpet.
The most repulsive blood feeding animal is the leech. Leeches are squishy, squiggly worms with razor sharp teeth and blood thinning saliva. They are also the most likely to saveives. While leeching and bleeding are no longer the catch-all cure they used to be, leeches have once again become an important medical tool. Leeches are used to stimulate blood flow in reattached body parts, from limbs to ears to fingers. John Wayne Bobbitt’s surgeons used leeches to reattach his penis. Lord Byron died after a vigorous leeching. Leech saliva has been studied for its properties as a anticoagulant and painkiller.
Besides insight into these oft overlooked creatures, Schutt also offers a detailed and easy to understand introduction to the biology of blood itself. There is also a lot of historical information about the medical history of leeching and bloodletting, including an in-depth look at the death of George Washington. All this not always pleasant information is presented in a light and humerous manner. The author is well aware of the absurdity of studying bedbugs, or bottle feeding baby bats, or making a living as a leech distributer.