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The Science of Vampirism

Extended Edition: Part IV

By Robert Lomax

Return to Part III

Note from Dr. Pecos: To view the original version of this section, click here.

Vampiric Biology

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 an overview of those changes, taken from writings that are no longer in circulation. These include Kristof Goessman's Among Vampires & Zombies, Henry Gray's Anatomy of the Vampire, and Andreas Vesalius' Five Books on the Structure of the Vampire Body.

Brain & Nervous System

A vampire's nervous system is similar to humans and has proven to be their Achilles’ heel, as injuries to the spinal cord and brain can be devastating for them, and they remain just as vulnerable to electricity. While a vampire's spinal cord and nerves (mostly) 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 (L) shows much more serotonin activity
than the vampiric brain (R).

Serotonin: Vampires have much lower levels of this neurotransmitter than humans. 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. Unfortunately, no conventional medications can reverse this in vampires.

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. In fact, vampires are highly susceptible to drug addiction, which can occur simply by drinking the blood of an addict. Cocaine and opiates (such as morphine and heroin) can mitigate a vampire's hunger by altering its dopamine and endorphin receptors, causing it to become lethargic and disinterested in hunting. This also causes its pupils to contract, inhibiting its keen night vision. A vampire that continues to indulge in drugs will die from malnutrition in a matter of weeks. For more information, see the 1880 case of the opium vampires.

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

Extrasensory Perception: Compared to humans, vampires are perceptive to the point of bordering on precognition. One researcher identified the source of this ability as enlarged amygdalae—a pair of almond-shaped nuclei located deep within the brain, devoted to processing, memory, emotional reactions and identifying danger. This is thought to be an adaptive change that allows vampires to anticipate danger before it's manifest, resulting in faster reflexes. It also helps them figure out what people are thinking based on certain cues: eye and muscle movement, mannerisms, vocal tone, breathing, flushing of the skin, pulsating vessels, perspiration, etc. Even the most subtle expression appears greatly exaggerated, making it almost impossible to lie to them. A downside to this powerful attention to detail is that vampires are much more prone to obsessive habits, such as rearranging and counting objects.

Photosensitivity: Vampires are very sensitive to all light, but the ultraviolet rays emitted by the sun cause them special problems: UV light that enters a vampire's eyes sets off a chain reaction in their brain that leads to violent convulsions, which can be fatal for vampires stuck out in the sun for too long. Even if a vampire were to close its eyes, the lids just aren't thick enough to block out these harmful rays (which is also why people who spend time in tanning beds wear special goggles). However, there are sunglasses now that provide near-perfect protection from UV light.

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, increased reflectivity of the retina causes them to shimmer in the dark, reminiscent of the tapetum lucidum in many nocturnal animals. This is the result of glittering tissue that reflects unabsorbed light back into the rod cells. 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. To disguise themselves, vampires will take to wearing either sunglasses or contact lenses.
A vampire's glowing retinas

Smell/Hearing: Both senses are extremely acute: thanks to a combination of hypertrophic cerebral neurons and additional receptor cells, hearing range (and differentiation) is tripled while smell is tenfold. There is a downside to this, as vampires are much more sensitive to pepper spray, air horns and the sound of gunfire. They can also hear dog whistles, and other high-frequency noises that human ears can't pick up. Over time, fluid loss causes the cartilage of the ear helix to shrink and take on a somewhat pointed appearance.

Touch: Despite the fact that vampires experience less blood flow in their epidermal tissues, their nerve endings are actually much more sensitive than a human's, due to enlargement of the primary somatosensory cortex. While this greatly improves their balance and reflex action, it also makes physical sensations such as touch, heat, cold and the feeling of water quite uncomfortable for them—not unlike those suffering from autism. Pain, however, is somewhat dulled.

Taste: Not only is the taste of human blood much stronger for vampires, those with experience can even tell the following about the person it came from: general age range, gender, blood type, general diet, and the presence of adrenaline and drugs. Similar to a drowning victim, vampiric gums take on a ghastly pale-purple color, while the tongue is a darker greyish-purple during rest and more pinkish when fully circulated (especially before feeding).

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. Produced inside the pulp, specialized ameloblasts travel through the narrow pores of the dentin and crown. Once they reach the surface, they will deposit additional enamel onto its tip, creating a sharp fang. If the victim has artificial crowns, fillings, bridges or veneers, the fangs will simply grow through and break off the impediment. There's also a small groove on the back of each fang that helps vacuum up blood as the vampire feeds, and many will file the tips to make them sharper. As a vampire "ages," fluid loss causes a noticeable recession of the gums, making the teeth appear longer. They also become quite discolored over time, as dental hygiene is usually neglected.

Dental Regeneration: Vampires who have had their teeth pulled out—both before and after transformation—have been observed to regrow their top and bottom canines within a month (while having to rely on knives in the meantime). Unfortunately, these replacement fangs are thinner and don't protrude as much, which makes feeding a bit more difficult. Since even the slightest damage is repaired, vampires are incapable of getting permanent cavities in their fangs, and they'll have to keep filing them to keep them sharp. If the vampire has a dental implant (which is screwed into the jawbone), then no regeneration will occur, since the root canal is effectively destroyed by a drill prior to implantation.

Close-up of a vampire's skin and veins
Skin: As with late-stage coma victims, a newly-transformed vampire has a sickly, pale-yellow skin tone (jaundice) from all the bilirubin in its system. Over the next 72 hours, blood circulation slows even further—especially in the surface capillaries—causing the skin to fade to a ghastly bluish tone. Vampiric complexion depends largely on race and ethnicity: those of African descent will appear more greyish, while untanned Caucasians are nearly as white as a fishbelly. Warm temperatures, strenuous activity and nutritional intake cause the surface capillaries to open up more, making the skin appear less blue. Unsurprisingly, a starved vampire will relapse back to that sallow jaundice pallor once its organs start failing. Over a matter of years, vampiric skin becomes more and more translucent as its fat and water stores shrink away, revealing a fine network of veins underneath. Thinner areas of skin, such as the eye sockets, lids and lips, are the first to be affected by these changes. To disguise themselves, vampires will cover as much skin as possible with clothing, and apply thick makeup to the rest.
An Italian woman before and after contracting vampirism in 1831
Scent: Vampires bear a strong, unpleasant odor reminiscent of ammonia. Because vampires don't urinate that often, toxins build up in their bloodstream and into their sweat, causing a stench that worsens as bacteria grows in it. Natural pheromones only add to the aroma. Before venturing out in public, they'll take great pains to bathe themselves and cover their scent with deodorants, colognes and perfumes. If you've ever smelled musky cat urine, then you already know the foulness of an unwashed vampire.

Wound inflicted by a jagged vampire claw.
Those from pointed claws are
more narrow and deep.
Nails: Both fingernails and toenails thicken, yellow and grow at a rapid rate—closer to the speed of human hair. Because keratin growth occurs only at the nail's proximal end, it takes a while for the tough new nails to fully replace the old ones: a month or two for fingernails, and three to six for toenails. 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. Alpha vampires tend to keep their nails longer as a display of status, since they don't do much actual hunting or fighting. Contrary to some fiction, vampire claws typically don't have the sharpness and tensile strength to rip open arteries and tear off faces, although they can still cause nasty scrapes and gouge out eyes. They're mainly used for grabbing, while combat is reserved for fists, feet, teeth and knives. Provided they're not wearing full-fingered gloves, nail length remains an effective way to spot a disguised vampire.
A 68-year-old vampire suffering from the effects of
UV exposure after a failed suicide attempt; 1942.
Note the pointed ears and lack of hair.

Photosensitivity: As stated previously, vampiric skin becomes highly inflamed and blistered when exposed to ultraviolet light, causing serious burns and scarring as well. This reaction is a more severe form of that found in people who suffer from shingles, along with some aspects of lupus. In addition, vampires will slowly lose all their skin pigment due to a form of vitiligo, which only exacerbates their sun allergy. In order for a vampire to go out in the sun, it would have to wear UV-proof clothing, powerful sunblock, top-of-the-line sunglasses, and a large umbrella. Going out on cloudy winter days would obviously be safer, and prevent the possibility of overheating.

Hair: Hair growth slows down substantially—closer to the rate of human nails. For instance, while it takes about a day or so for stubble to appear after a human shaves, it can take almost a week for a vampire. Because vampiric nails use more protein, the growth speed of both tissues is drastically reversed. 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. Since blood supply is also a factor, the extremities are the first to go completely, while other areas simply become patchy. Next up is torso and facial hair—including the eyebrows, eyelashes and nasal hair. Then what's left on the scalp will disappear as well. Within ten years of transformation, a vampire's entire epidermis will be completely bald, with not even a hint of peach fuzz. Some vampires will cut or shave their hair before it's all gone, while others will simply yank it out with their bare hands. To disguise their alopecia, vampires will take to wearing wigs, hats and hoods over their naked scalps. They've also been known to glue on synthetic eyebrows and eyelashes, as well as mustaches, goatees and beards. Disturbingly, many vampires made their own wigs by scalping their victims.

Continue to Part V
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