Desmodus draculae: 100,000-Year-Old Fossil of Giant Vampire Bat Found in Argentina

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Desmodus draculae in a burrow of a giant sloth. Image credit: Daniel Boh / Museo de Ciencias Naturales de Miramar.

Paleontologists in Argentina have found a fossilized jaw of the extinct bat species Desmodus draculae inside an ancient burrow of a giant sloth.

Desmodus draculae is an extinct species of leaf-nosed bat that inhabited Central and South Americas from the Pleistocene Epoch until the early Holocene epoch.

First described in 1988, its fossils are known from Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil, Venezuela, Belize, and Bolivia.

Desmodus draculae had a wingspan of up to 50 cm (20 inches) and a body mass of 60 g, making it the largest known vampire bat of all time.

It belongs to the subfamily Desmodontinae (vampire bats), which also includes three extinct and three living species.

“The size of Desmodus draculae was larger than that of a computer keyboard and significantly larger than that of its living relatives,” said Dr. Santiago Brizuela, a paleontologist at the Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata and CONICET.

The food source of Desmodus draculae and other vampire bats is blood, a dietary trait called hematophagy.

“Their name came from the legends of the Transailvania and its creepy Count Dracula,” said Dr. Mariano Magnussen, a paleontologist at the Museo de Ciencias Naturales de Miramar.

“In reality, they are peaceful animals that feed on the blood of animals, and sometimes humans, for a few minutes without causing discomfort.”

“The only bad thing is that they can transmit rabies or other diseases if they are infected. Surely their prehistoric representatives had similar behaviors.”

The fossilized jaw of Desmodus draculae. Image credit: Museo de Ciencias Naturales de Miramar.

The new fossil of Desmodus draculae is at least 100,000 years old (Late Pleistocene epoch).

It was found at a paleontological site near southeastern Buenos Aires in Argentina.

“The jaw of Desmodus draculae was found inside a cave or burrow 1.2 m (3.9 feet) in diameter attributed to a giant sloth of the family Mylodontidae, such as Scelidotherium,” said Dr. Daniel Tassara, a paleontologist at the Museo Municipal de Ciencias Naturales Pachamama.

“We do not know if this vampire entered the cave to feed, take refuge, or was prey to another animal.”

Desmodus draculae was the last of the giant flying mammals. It became extinct during the colonial period, around 1820, possibly as a consequence from the Little Ice Age,” the researchers said.

The team’s paper was published in the journal Ameghiniana.


Santiago Brizuela & Daniel A. Tassara. 2021. New Record of the Vampire Desmodus draculae (Chiroptera) from the Late Pleistocene of Argentina. Ameghiniana 58 (2): 169-176; doi: 10.5710/AMGH.30.12.2020.3379