Could There be Real Monster Bats?

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Tim Rogers for TIME

A baby vampire caught in a night raid in the community of Llano Grande 2, Nicaragua

Villages infested with vampire bats are one thing. But Nicaragua has its own folklore of blood-sucking monsters. From tales of the infamous chupacabras — the mythical alien, kangaroo, batdog that feeds on the blood of goats and chickens — to the lesser-known comelenguas, an unseen beast that feeds on the tongues of sleeping cattle, most Nicaraguan farmers can hold their own when it comes to telling vampire stories around a campfire. But, perhaps just like The X-Files, there could be an element of truth to some of the legends.

In 2002, when the chupacabras was supposedly terrorizing a rural farming community outside the colonial city of Leon, a former government vampire hunter told the local press that the real blood-sucking culprit was a giant vampire bat with a 5-ft wingspan, which he claims to have once caught in the northern mountains of Nicaragua. Bat experts and other vampire hunters insist there's no way a vampire could grow that big, but zoologist Bill Schutt says the hunter could have caught the Vampyrum spectrum, a monstrous carnivorous bat found in Nicaragua. The Vampyrum spectrum is an extremely rare predator with fierce teeth and a three-foot wing span. But, Schutt notes, it's not a real blood feeder, despite its name.

Still, there was once a true giant vampire bat and some experts think that creature of the late Pleistocene, the Desmodus draculae, may still be alive today in some remote corner of the world. Nicaragua perhaps? Unlikely, Schutt says, but not impossible. "I'd jump up and down if one were discovered today," Schutt said. The farmers of Nicaragua, however, may not be as happy.

Read about Nicaragua's vampire problem