Each night they emerge from caves, tree hollows and abandoned buildings to fill the skies of Mexico and Central and South America, drinking half of their body weight in blood. But are vampire bats really that scary?

Like the legendary monster for which they were named, vampire bats do survive on the blood of cows, pigs, horses and birds, and though rare, they do occasionally bite humans. But unlike Bram Stoker’s famed villain, vampire bats don’t actually suck blood from their victims. Instead, using specialized teeth, they make a small cut and lap up blood with their tongues. Other adaptations which facilitate this unusual feeding habit include the ability to walk, run and jump. Vampire bats even have a thumb! And all of these adaptations are critical to the survival of the bats, which can only go two nights without feeding.

There are actually three different types of vampire bats: Desmodus rotundus — the most common variety, Diaemus youngi and Diphylla ecaudata.