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    Day is night for 40 vampire bats haunting a picture window at the Louisville Zoo, the room intentionally set to a gauzy twilight to ensure lively bats for a non-nocturnal public. Every afternoon at 2:30, visitors have a chance to witness the closest thing to Dracula this side of literature. A small back door to the exhibit opens, revealing a partial human — a torso and hands — setting out eight saucers of an inky-red liquid. A few gory drops spill, similar to those employed by horror movie directors inching toward the dismal reveal of a freshly slain body.

    Some bats kamikaze from high corners; others fold their leathery wings close to their mouse-like bodies and perform a crooked little hobble over to the spread. Once there, they use their grooved tongues to lap up the goods, much like a cat or dog, until about a tablespoon is consumed.

    It’s a bit more leisurely than nature’s way. Out there in the real nighttime, in their native Central and South America, these airborne prowlers scan for sleeping prey — say, a farm animal or monkey or the big toe of an outdoorsman not fully cocooned in a sleeping bag. Once perched, razor-sharp fangs slit the skin, releasing a bit of anesthetic to numb any pain. With blood flowing, it’s time to lick, lick, lick — more kid on an ice cream cone than bloodsucker of Gothic design. An anti-clotting substance in the bat spit prevents the wound from clotting or healing. Substance name: Draculin.

    Every three weeks, the zoo picks up three to four gallons of cow blood from a local butcher to feed their colony. It’s kept frozen until a few hours before feeding time, when the blood thaws in hot water, much like a mother warming a baby’s milk bottle. Added chemicals include sodium citrate, a sort of manmade Draculin that keeps the blood oozy and fluid. No blood Jell-O on the menu for these pampered vampires. 

    This originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline “Out for Blood.” To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

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