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Climate, US & World

Vampire bats may soon travel to United States; bringing rabies, danger to livestock with them

Crystal Graham
vampire bats
Luis Escobar, assistant professor of wildlife conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, as well as undergraduate and graduate students studied vampire bats in Colombia during a summer research trip. Photo courtesy of Paige Van de Vuurst.

Due to climate change, vampire bats may soon come to the United States – and carry rabies with them.

A study published in the Ecography journal predicts that vampire bats – currently found in Mexico and Central and South America – are on the move.

Vampire bats, research shows, have expanded their locations in search of more stable, temperate climates.

“What we found was that the distribution of vampire bats has moved northward across time due to past climate change, which has corresponded with an increase in rabies cases in many Latin American countries,” said Paige Van de Vuurst, a Ph.D. student in Virginia Tech’s Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health Graduate Program.

The research team, which included both undergraduate and graduate students, also found this expanded reach could be linked to a spillover of rabies. Latin America is currently feeling the bite of the rabies spread through the loss of livestock, which has generated fear as the bats’ migration patterns expand.

The Virginia Tech team aims to vigorously identify and track the bats by traveling to Colombia to help contain the spread to other countries, including the United States and its vital cattle industry.

“Colombia is a mega-diverse country, making it a perfect natural laboratory,” said Luis Escobar, assistant professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment.

The country boasts having the highest number of hummingbirds and bats, attributed to its tropic climate and proximity to the equator.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.