The vampires and vampiric creatures of folklore are a decidedly mixed bag of humans, zombies, animals, and various hybrids and mutants. In many ways, the creatures of lore are more primal in their conception and definitely more animalistic in their hunting and killing of victims than vampires turned from humans. While vampires are often associated with a number of different animals, among them cats, dogs, birds, and various insects, they are most commonly linked to bats and wolves. And while many animals can become vampires, they can also be used to combat vampires. Horses, for example, are used in graveyards because they refuse to step near vampiric graves.
It's no small mystery that the vampire bat is associated with the legendary bloodsucker. As luck would have it, there's a good reason for that. In total, there are three species of vampire bat from the Desmontidae family and Desmondus genus: the common Desmodus rufus, the Desmodus rotundus, and Diphylla ecaudata. Primarily found in areas of Central and South America and a few areas of the southern United States, the vampire bat is small in size but bears a particularly frightening appearance that lends to its feeding habits, including an erect stance, large eyes, teeth that are incredibly sharp, and a lower lip possessing a cleft. As mentioned earlier, it is indeed a blood drinker with tactics similar to that of a vampire in that it feeds at ground level and attempts to hypnotize its prey before glomming itself to a vein and lapping up blood with its long tongue. With saliva containing an anticoagulant, the bat is able to keep blood flowing until it's sated. Like vampires, they must maintain blood intake or face rapid deterioration.
The bat has appeared in legend and lore for centuries but didn't become famous until Bram Stoker brought it to the forefront. Stoker made free use of the bat in Dracula, as it appeared at the windows of Renfield, Lucy, and the Harkers. Subsequently appearing in Bela Lugosi's Dracula (in what many still dub the “yo-yo bat” for its jerky movements), it quickly became one of the most definitive icons of the vampire.
Hungry Like the Wolf
In Chapter Two of Dracula, when Jonathan Harker sits with the Count after his arrival at Castle Dracula, there is, in the background, the sound of wolves howling. It's at that point the black demon utters arguably the most famous line of the novel: “Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!” By all accounts, it's a chilling statement, one that over the decades has been repeated many times with varying alterations. Dracula's almost gleeful acknowledgment of the wolves is a devilish way of paying homage to folkloric beasts while also hinting at his ability to become a wolf himself.
One possible explanation for individuals allegedly becoming werewolves is the fungus ergot, which most commonly pollutes rye, barley, and wheat crops. During Medieval times these were the grains typically used in bread. One of the common byproducts of ergot is that it can cause convulsions, psychosis, and hallucinations. Experts have speculated that contaminated bread is a possible explanation for lycan-thropy and even the hysteria of the Salem witch trials.
Like witches, vampires and lycanthropes, or werewolves, have also been connected throughout lore, fiction, and certainly in film, largely as a result of their ability to shape shift, their predatory urges, and their quest for survival. They are, after all, hunted beasts. The Slavic interpretation of the vampiric Greek vrykolakas is that of a wolf (see Chapter 2). Throughout history there have also been many documented accounts of werewolves, though there have been equal accounts analyzing the causes of alleged lycanthropy affecting humans. Suffice to say that the most prevalent human/wolf hybrids have been those featured in circuses and freakshows and are in general overly hairy humans.