I know it’s an odd subject to start off the new year, but I’ve been thinking about vampires recently. I’m always wondering how a creature like that could exist and how they would function biologically and socially.
In fiction, there’s no lack of iterations by each author. Specifically, I really like the way Peter Watts handled his brand of vampire. They have an evolutionary niche, and unlike most vampires, they are strictly solitary. There are more details on his vampires over at rifters.com, which I recommend checking out. His novels and short stories are also great work as well.
What got me thinking about this subject again was the very real vampire bat. It is the only known mammal to feed only on blood. It’s digestive system is specialized and some of its other senses such as sight and hearing are specifically tuned to the respiration and body heat of prey. These bats are also very social and also display reciprocal altruism by regurgitating blood meals to bats that haven’t been able to feed. A vampire will only last about two days without a meal, thus the need for a little help here and there.
Now how can that be translated to a human, or at least a human-like being? It’s complicated. Luckily, writers can get away with skimping on some detail, since perspective and narrative can remain vague if they want it to. However, for the detail oriented writers who like to do extra tinkering, there are some ways to make the picture clearer. First, looking to the biology of blood drinking creatures that exist in reality helps to get an idea how the physical nature of the character would work.
Blood itself is actually very nutrient rich for the things that can digest it. However, since feeding only on the blood would put a vampire at a big disadvantage. The body must be extremely specialized in order to digest the liquid, and a humanoid body would likely be difficult to adapt to that need. A small mammal is one thing, and a complex hominid animal is something else. The issue of teeth for making the proper puncture wounds for drawing out blood is another point of contention. Simple fangs with otherwise very human teeth are rather silly, and only seem to fit the popular aesthetic among many vampires in fiction. Fangs would also create larger punctures than needed and a large amount of the precious fluid would end up wasted. I think vampires would be obligate carnivores, not just taking in blood as a warm nutrient rich drink, but consuming the flesh of their prey. This would require sharper more unpleasant looking set of teeth. Think 30 Days of Night vampires. They would be adequate for ripping and tearing meat, and adequate enough to crush the windpipe in order to take down thrashing human prey. They would also have considerably more muscle strength in both jaws and body.
Yes, I’ve watched far too many wildlife documentaries for my own good. But I like my vampires terrifyingly real, and not sparkly, or interested in fucking their would be prey. * Insert evil grin here*
Now, how would they live among the billions of potential prey? Probably by keeping a very low profile, and reasonably low numbers of themselves. They could lead solitary lives, or in packs to allow for cooperative hunting, and other resources. They could utilize the lifestyle of a vagrant, as life as an important person would put too much light on them.
Mirroring prey is the ultimate deception. It would not only require the appearance, but some of the social behavior of said prey. Which may beg the question; If you become so much like your prey, does the ability to empathize with them occasionally rear its head? That’s interesting. There have been cases of a predator befriending prey in the natural world, though they aren’t very common. What then would the vampire who stumbles upon empathy for his prey do? He or she may end up suffering mentally knowing that they could so easily kill a friend, or that they feed on the same species as the person they feel something for.
Lifespan could theoretically could be longer than an average human. Not sure about true immortality. Biological immortality, if we’re going to talk in theory, would require decreased cellular senescence and a faster healing factor. However, that’s not to say that said vampire can’t succumb to disease or the most severe injuries. They would not be immortal in the traditional sense, just very long lived, and remarkably hard to kill by human standards.
Hibernation periods may also be something a biological vampire would utilize in its life cycle. If not for much needed rest after a long time hunting season, or to sleep until their environment replenishes itself. I doubt a hibernation cycle would last more than a few years, maybe a decade as a limit, since more complex organisms risk cellular damage during very long periods of inactivity. Only smaller, less complex organisms like bacteria, and occasionally insects can take much lengthier times under.
All in all, this vision of a biological vampire is something I thought over for some time, and there’s plenty more I could add. It would be a truly terrifying predator… and one that may be thinking more than you’d believe.