Despite the Gothic-sounding title, DARK BANQUET (2008), by biologist Bill Schutt, is a nonfiction book replete with fascinating facts about "Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures." It ranges far beyond the blood-drinkers in nature that most readily come to mind, such as mosquitoes, leeches, and vampire bats. Not surprisingly, however, the first part of the book (comprising three chapters) expounds the lore of vampire bats, the only obligate blood-drinking vertebrates. (Some birds, for example, occasionally consume blood, but their lives don't depend on it.) Schutt describes his experience observing vampire bats in Trinidad. He then discusses in depth the history of Europeans' discovery of vampire bats and the evolution and biology of these creatures. Did you know some of them can sneak up on unresisting hens by mimicking the posture and behavior of chicks?
Part Two introduces us to basic facts about the composition and physiology of blood, with an overview of the medical technique of bloodletting. The latter topic leads naturally into the biology and ecology of leeches. Part Three, "Bed Bug and Beyond," ranges widely over the animal kingdom, including not only bedbugs but such creatures as chiggers and other mites, mosquitoes, hookworms and similar internal parasites, finches that supplement their normal diet with blood, and the dreaded bloodsucking candiru fish. The author's conclusion assures us that most "vampires" in nature pose little threat to us and points out their ecological importance. Throughout the book, he intersperses the lucid exposition with personal anecdotes.
How did vampire bats and leeches evolve to drink blood? What legitimate medical purposes do leeches serve even nowadays? How do chiggers and ticks transmit diseases? Do the eel-like candiru fish ever swim up the human urethra, as rumor claims? How much of the vital fluid do sanguivorous creatures actually consume? "Why does a blood-feeding lifestyle make sense?" (Discover why in the final chapter.) You'll find answers to these questions and many more in this lively, information-packed book. Writers of vampire fiction may find inspiration for exciting new twists in this exploration of real-life bloodsuckers.
Margaret L. Carter
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