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The Science of Vampirism

Vampiric Biology

By Hugo Pecos & Robert Lomax

Return to Vampiric Virology

Untreated, a person who comes out of a vampiric coma will have undergone a number of major physiological changes affecting the various systems of the body. The information included below is only a short overview; for a more detailed account, read Robert Lomax's extended pages here.


Brain & Nervous System

A vampire's nervous system is similar to humans and has proven to be their Achilles' heel: injuries to the spinal cord and brain can be devastating for them. While a vampire's spinal cord and nerves work as before transformation, a number of changes take place in the brain, and that altered brain chemistry goes a long way toward understanding vampiric behavior.

The normal brain (left) shows much more serotonin activity
than the vampiric brain (right).
Serotonin: Vampires have much lower levels of this neurotransmitter. Serotonin acts as an inhibitor against violent, aggressive and impulsive behavior, which also explains why criminals such as murderers and rapists have so little of it in their brains.

Dopamine/Endorphins: These neurotransmitters induce feelings of euphoria, and are released in a vampire's brain when it feeds. Neural pathways activated in feeding vampires are much like those found in drug users.

Circadian Rhythms: Chemical changes in the brain that help us "rise and shine" with the morning light are reversed in vampires.


Sense Organs

Powerful sense organs give vampires an advantage in both hunting and eluding capture. Sneaking up on them is virtually impossible, as they are aware of your presence long before you are aware of theirs.

A normal eye compared with a vampire's
Sight: In vampires, the iris in each eye becomes hyperdilated, giving them what appear to be black eyes. In addition, the retina now reflects more light into the rod cells, causing the eyes to shimmer in the dark. While all this gives vampires excellent night vision, it renders them effectively blind in daylight. They also experience extreme vasodilation of the sclera, making the whites of their eyes appear red.

Smell/Hearing: Both senses are extremely acute: thanks to a combination of enlarged brain tissue and additional receptor cells, hearing range is tripled while smell is tenfold.


Hair, Skin, Teeth & Nails

Part of the terror of encountering a vampire stems from dramatic changes to their outer appearance. Some of these changes are functional, while others are simply the result of various chemical imbalances.

As you can see, the upper fangs are quite straight
compared to the curved lower fangs.
Teeth: During the latter half of the vampiric coma, the upper and lower eyeteeth experience rapid growth as additional enamel is deposited on the crown of each tooth, creating sharp fangs. Many vampires will file these fangs to make them sharper for easier feeding—though they'll have to do this about once a week as vampire fangs are capable of regeneration, even when pulled out.

Skin: A newly-transformed vampire has a sickly, pale-yellow skin tone that fades to a ghastly bluish color over the next few days as its circulation slows. Over a matter of years, the skin becomes more and more translucent as its fat and water stores shrink away, revealing a fine network of veins underneath.

Nails: Both fingernails and toenails thicken and grow at a more than doubled rate. To prevent tension on their nail beds, vampires will generally keep their nails within a centimeter in length, and also quite jagged or pointed to help them grab victims and injure opponents.

Hair: Hair growth slows down substantially in order to feed the accelerated nails. Not only that, once a follicle reaches its terminal length and falls out, each regrowth will become smaller and lighter until it's gone for good. Within ten years of transformation, a vampire's entire epidermis will be completely bald, with not even a hint of peach fuzz.


Muscular & Skeletal System

Adaptations in their skeletal and muscular systems give vampires significant advantages over humans.

Muscles/Connective Tissue: About 90% of vampiric muscles are of the fast-twitch variety (compared to 50% for the average human). This brand of musculature enables short bursts of maximal force, ideal when hunting prey. However, unlike typical fast-twitch muscles, vampiric muscles are highly resistant to fatigue, thanks to a drastic increase in myoglobin and mitochondria. Ligaments and tendons thicken in response to the workload imposed upon them by the muscles.

Skeletal System: Osteoblast production causes a vampire's entire skeleton to harden and thicken, both during the coma and after each feeding. As a vampire loses its fat and water stores, its spine will curve into a hunchback, a condition known as kyphosis.


Cardiovascular System

The most profound differences between our species are found in the circulatory system, as they enable vampires to survive injuries that would kill a human being.

A drop of human arterial blood compared
with that of a vampire
Blood: Vampire blood is called ichor (pr. ik-er), and appears black due to an increase in iron levels, allowing it to carry more oxygen and clot faster.

Heart: Vampire blood is pumped via the contraction of skeletal muscle rather than the heart, which eventually atrophies from disuse. At rest, these contractions are mostly involuntary and take place in the limbs, emanating from the furthest extremities inward, like a wave. BPM for each contraction tends to be much lower than the average human heartbeat.

Adrenaline: This "emergency hormone," produced by the adrenal glands, is released in consistently large amounts in vampire blood during "fight-or-flight" situations. This quickly raises a vampire's sluggish metabolism by increasing blood flow, dilating air passages and accelerating the production of clotting factors. Along with changes in muscle, bone and connective tissue, this ability to release adrenaline only adds to a vampire's extraordinary power.


Body Temperature

Like a reptile (or corpse), a vampire's core body temperature depends largely on its surrounding environment. They aren't completely cold-blooded, however, as they'll still shiver and produce heat to keep their temperature at a bare minimum of 60 degrees Fahrenheit (compared to 98 for humans). This proved to be a great help for modern vampire hunters, as it made vampires easily distinguishable from humans when viewed through infrared imagery.


Aging & Life Expectancy

While no vampire on record has ever died of natural causes, vampires do undergo an aging process—just not in the same way as humans. Vampires do not age on a molecular/genetic level, but their life of hunting and eluding capture creates tremendous wear and tear in the form of injuries to bones and tissue.

A 125-year-old vampire
photographed in Spain; 1901.
Note the curved spine, lack of hair
and emaciated frame.
Because they presented such a danger to society, most vampires were destroyed long before the outer limits of their lifespan were determined. Ancient history offers some clues, however. In ancient China, there was said to be one vampire in the Emperor's court through the entire Eastern Zhou Dynasty, which would put his age at 550. More accurate modern records have certified vampires of over 300 years old.

Contrary to the opinions of many theologians, vampiric longevity is not the result of some pact with the Devil, but rather an ability to ward off the DNA damage that occurs during cell division in normal humans. Specifically, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes (known as telomeres) become chewed up over time in humans, but not vampires.

Though their DNA may have the ability to resist aging, mutations that take place during the initial coma cause a vampire's appearance to change dramatically within the span of a decade. It will lose all of its hair as its fat and water stores shrink away, causing its skin to become thinner and more transparent. This gives it a distinctly withered and dried appearance, with smaller muscles and a pronounced curvature of the spine.

Despite their rather feeble appearance, older vampires are still extremely powerful and agile. Many a vampire hunter has made the mistake of underestimating them.

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