WORLD

Bloodsucking vampires are on the move

PATRICIA TREBLE July 9 2007
WORLD

Bloodsucking vampires are on the move

PATRICIA TREBLE July 9 2007

Bloodsucking vampires are on the move

PATRICIA TREBLE

A vampire moth species named Calyptra thalictri is finally living up to its bloodthirsty nickname, if a story just published in Suomen Luonto, a Scandinavian nature magazine, is any indication. The article, by professor Kauri Mikkola, an expert in the taxonomy and biogeography of moths at the Finnish Museum of Natural History, is an account of an expedition last July near Vladivostok, in the far east of Russia. Researchers captured the first record of this species feeding on blood from mammalian flesh—more specifically the thumbs of two scientists.

The blood was taken from Vladimir Kononenko of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Jennifer Zaspel of the University of Florida. Vampire moths settled on each of their thumbs, pierced the skin and gorged themselves full. Afterwards the thumbs swelled and became reddish, and ached and itched for a few hours. The moths, usually found in Asia, the Urals and southern Europe, have been moving northward in recent years, and researchers believe global warming is to blame for their shift into areas previously believed too cold for them. They’ve even made it to Finland, where they were first spotted in 2000; more than 100 have been counted since then.

Normally the moths feed by piercing fruit. However, Zaspel “sees a direct progression from piercing fruit to piercing mammalian skin and sucking blood.” While nine other rare species of vampire moths have been recorded feeding on blood, the Vladivostok encounters were the first time time the more common Calyptra thalictri has been observed exhibiting bloodthirsty behaviour. Zaspel noted that there has never been a report of a bloodsucking vampire moth spreading disease, like other insects including mosquitoes. That’s probably little comfort for northern Europeans like the Finns, no doubt wondering what nastily named creature will next move into their nation. M