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The Science of Vampirism

Extended Edition: Part VI

By Robert Lomax

Return to Part V

Body Temperature & Dormancy

Seen through thermal vision,
a vampire attacks its prey.
Like the naked mole-rat and two-toed sloth, vampires do not regulate their body temperature in typical mammalian fashion: being thermoconformers rather than thermoregulators, their core temperature depends largely on the surrounding environment. Unlike typical ectotherms, however, vampires can still shiver and produce enough heat to keep their temperature at a bare minimum of 60 degrees Fahrenheit during rest, and up to 74 when fully active—compared to 96.8 and 100 degrees for normal humans—provided the ambient temperature isn't much colder than 32 Fahrenheit (0 Celsius).

This temperature anomaly proved to be a great help for modern vampire hunters, as it made vampires easily distinguishable from humans when viewed through infrared imagery.

For important chemical reactions, vampires have at least two "emergency" enzyme systems that each operate at either freezing or feverish temperatures. While not nearly as efficient as their more moderate counterpart, they at least allow the body to survive a wider range of core temperatures than humans and other mammals, if typical regulation is not an option. This is known as poikilothermia, another characteristic vampires share with the naked mole-rat.

Because their body temperature is dependent on environment and they are unable to bask in the sun like reptiles can, sick vampires cannot experience or (sans hot weather) induce consistent fevers to slow the growth of harmful infections, but the natural antibiotics in their bodies more than fulfill this purpose.

A vampire's cold feet on a heating pad
The high 70s and low 80s seem to be their preferred temperature range. While the 90s are simply uncomfortable for vampires, anything over 100 can be potentially lethal. The fact that they sweat less than humans doesn't help, although they can either shed or don clothing to help regulate themselves. They will also drench or submerge themselves in water to cool off, but avoid it like the plague at colder temperatures. In fact, diving or boating into a large body of water is one of the better ways to escape from pursuing vampires. That's not to say that they won't attempt to follow you into the water, but if you can stay out far enough and long enough, they will hopefully consider you more trouble than you're worth.

Despite their aversion to the cold, vampires will not freeze to death—even when frozen solid. Like the wood frog, their bodies can quickly produce and accumulate higher levels of urea and glucose, which act as cryoprotectants by limiting the formation of internal ice crystals while reducing osmotic shrinkage of cells. However, while wood frogs can survive this way for only seven months at most, vampires have been known to last as long as 40 years—a decade longer than frozen tardigrades. As with the latter organism, this ability to remain desiccated for extended periods is largely dependent on high levels of the nonreducing sugar trehalose, which protects their cell membranes even after the event of osmotic dehydration.

If food is scarce, or if the situation is less than hospitable, even temperate vampires can go dormant and hibernate voluntarily, provided they're well-fed and can find a safe place to construct a lair. Abandoned buildings, mines and caves are high on the list of potential lair sites. Once safely ensconced, the vampire will fall into a deep sleep, during which its bodily functions slow to a level just enough to sustain it. Respiration drops to only one breath every six to eight hours (depending on temperature), circulation slows to only three to six fasciculations per hour, and hair and nail growth grinds to a halt. The longer a vampire hibernates, the more dried and withered it becomes as its body uses up nutrients; rate of hair loss is about the same as an active vampire. In time, it may resemble a mummified corpse or wax sculpture, which can be dangerously deceiving to whomever may discover it.
19th-century depiction of a vampire during a normal sleep cycle.
Dormant vampires tend to lay flat on their backs or curl into a fetal position, usually with their arms crossed.
In addition, they will typically strip naked as extra body heat can be detrimental to a long dormancy.
Unlike bears and other hibernating animals, a vampire can quickly snap out of its dormancy in full attack mode. Still, they are much easier to sneak up on while in the dormant phase. The outer limits of this phase have yet to be discovered, although FVZA scientists in the 1940s and 50s observed vampires remaining dormant for over 10 years, awakening only once every three to four years to excrete waste and gorge themselves on human blood. They subsisted just fine on blood bags for the full decade, but without a live human to feed on directly, they were unable to go dormant again and subsequently starved to death within a month.

As long as they take these so-called lunch breaks, and feed on a live human every ten years, there appears to be no limit to how long they can hibernate. The longest record was discovered in 1964 when a construction crew in London uncovered a vampire that had been dormant since 1688—almost 280 years! Interestingly, it was found inside the remains of an old wine cellar in the Whitechapel area, near the site of one of Jack the Ripper's murders.

This ability to go long intervals without blood begs the question: why do so many vampires die of starvation? The simple answer is that they simply become addicted to the taste and effects of blood, so they remain active to feed as much as possible. It actually takes a fair amount of self-discipline to simply lay down and give that up. Another important reason is that vampires have to gorge themselves on human blood in order to get them through at least three years of inactivity, which is impossible if they're already starving and unable to hunt. Non-human mammals do suffice, but this only gives them a year at most, and a human meal is absolutely required afterward.

As for why dormant vampires don't suffer from pressure sores and muscle atrophy: like bears, vampires will periodically stretch, shiver and reposition their bodies to simultaneously exercise their muscles and improve circulation. This occurs about three to four times a day in bears, but only once or twice a week for a vampire. Muscle wasting in both species is also suppressed by a proteolytic inhibitor which is released into the bloodstream.

Reproductive Organs & Sexuality

One of the few upsides to the vampire menace is their inability to reproduce sexually. Not only are they rendered infertile during the coma, they can't even experience any kind of arousal. Of course, their overwhelming lust for blood more than makes up for this, and feeding can be thought of as a form of rape, with the virus serving as their sperm. In a way, this method of reproduction is far more frightening, considering that it produces fully-grown offspring within two days of "conception."
What little sperm that can be harvested from
vampiric testes is always highly deformed.
A nude vampire corpse
on a makeshift autopsy table.
Right-click for full size.
Vampiric impotency is mainly caused by a chronic lack of blood flow to the genitals, as well as hormonal insufficiencies. It should also come as no surprise that the scrotum is always contracted, since the body is usually quite cool, preservation of sperm is no longer necessary, and elevation of the testicles makes them less vulnerable to injury. Similar to prepubescent children, testosterone and estrogen levels appear to be identical in males and females, effectively making them sexless as far as bodily functions go. As for gender identity, vampires usually feel no emotional attachment to their breasts and external genitalia—superfluous mounds of flesh that serve only as a cruel reminder of what they used to be—and will sometimes amputate them to achieve a more "neutral" appearance (a task made easier by their rapid healing and reduced pain, bleeding and infection risk).

Alterations to the brain's structure and chemistry are responsible for a vampire's lack of gender identity and apparent asexuality, which would explain why they aren't picky as to which gender to feed on. That's not to say that vampires don't feel affection for the people they knew; but tragically, most of them can't stop themselves from making loved ones their first victims.

As one might suspect, there have been many reports throughout history of troubled individuals who purposely got themselves infected in order to rid themselves of their sexuality, such as frustrated virgins and sex addicts, shunned and self-loathing LGBT individuals, victims of rape and adultery, those who had committed adultery, priests who had broken their vow of celibacy, and rapists who felt remorse for their crimes.

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.

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.

Chromosomes (purple).
Telomeres (pink).
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. This is due to an increased production of telomerase, an enzyme that adds DNA sequence repeats. In addition, higher levels of the antioxidant enzyme catalase protect the cells from free radicals and ambient radiation, preventing oxidative and ionization damage to the DNA. This also prevents proteins from clumping together, which can accumulate inside tissues and cause them to stiffen and function less efficiently—a process known as glycation.

Like naked mole-rats, vampires also have a high resistance to tumors—at least those of the malignant variety. In addition to the slowed aging process, the proliferation of cancerous cells is further inhibited by an "over-crowding" gene which prevents cellular division once individual cells come into contact—a mechanism known as "contact inhibition." Basically, vampiric cells will commit mass suicide when overcrowded, thus preventing tumor formation.

A 125-year-old vampire
photographed in Spain; 1901.
Note the curved spine, lack of hair
and emaciated frame.
Although their DNA has 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, deflated breasts and a pronounced, vulture-like curvature of the spine. Skin pigment disappears as well, so all vampires end up virtually albino, regardless of ethnicity. Once that period is over, however, they will generally look and perform the same way for however many years, decades or centuries they can avoid disfiguring or debilitating injuries.
Vampires cease growing when they're
turned before adulthood.
Elmer McCurdy, an Oklahoma outlaw who was turned in 1911 at age 31.
The second photo was taken after his sunburnt body was found hanging from a tree in 1959.
He had also filed his fangs down, inserted needles into his flesh, and castrated himself.
Despite their rather feeble appearance, older vampires are still extremely powerful and agile, and their bones are harder and thicker than those of their younger counterparts. Many a vampire hunter has made the mistake of underestimating them.

Cross-Species Infection

Because HVV is zoonotic, humans aren't the only mammals capable of infection, as documented by countless experiments performed at facilities like the Plum Island Animal Disease Center off the coast of New York. Depending on the species, symptoms can range from similar to outright identical to those of humans, with fever, chills, increased metabolism, itching and coma remaining universally consistent. The same applies to incubation time and coma duration, though the death toll is quite high compared to humans. Primates have the most chance of surviving, while larger mammals have better odds than smaller ones.

A rabid canine
Bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, skin discoloration, sun sensitivity, darkened blood and reduced body temperature also remain consistent in coma survivors, along with increased muscle power and aggression. As for heart stoppage, only primates seem affected by this change. This is likely due to the size of their limbs, which are large enough to adequately pump blood through skeletal muscle contraction. Fasciculations still occur in non-primates, but they beat only enough to support the slowed heart rate. This has also been brought up as evidence as to how this form of circulation evolved in vampires.

Unlike vampires, non-humanoid coma survivors do not experience dental growth, and are completely rabid from brain swelling. Cancer, tissue necrosis and immune disorders occur as well, and also shed light on how early proto-vampires may have started out. One reason for these problems is that not as many cells can be infected and transformed, causing tissues to become mismatched and identified as foreign by the rest of the body. In addition, some degree of viral production will continue even after the coma, which only causes further cell destruction. This biological incompatibility with the virus is always fatal: the vast majority of primates live less than a week; non-primates even sooner.

The virus' effect on animals raises an important question: why us? Why is the virus so much more compatible with our bodies? After all, the rabies virus doesn't treat us any better than other mammals. While it's perfectly plausible that millions of years of natural selection could craft the vampires we know today, it would require relatively constant exposure, death and re-exposure to weed out the problems seen in other animals. As disturbing as it is to consider, vampires could have very well been bred like dogs.

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