About the book
Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures
For centuries, blood feeders have inhabited our nightmares and horror stories, as well as the most shadowy realm of our scientific knowledge. In this book, Dr. Bill Schutt, an authority on vampire bats, takes the reader on a dark but entertaining voyage into the world of some of its strangest creatures – the sanguivores.
In mapping out the world of blood- feeding creatures, Schutt focuses on their natural history and behavior - especially their unique feeding habits. The author visits rivers in South America, where the candiru (or vampire catfish) is more feared then the legendary piranha, and suburban habitats where mosquitoes, fleas, and the diseases they transmit, have changed the course of human civilization. From leeches- ancient invertebrates now helping surgeons to save newly transplanted limbs, to ticks and the controversy over the existence of chronic Lyme disease, Schutt provides fascinating details on the lives of these bizarre creatures and their relationships with humans.
Dark Banquet also explores the resurgence of bed bugs. Formerly cave-dwelling bat parasites - bed bugs have transitioned to a life of feeding on human blood. According to experts, bed bugs will become the number one household pest in the U.S. within two years. In Dark Banquet, Schutt explains what bed bugs are, then thoroughly reviews the reasons for the bed bug resurgence. The author also informs readers about how to prevent bed bug infestations, and just as importantly, what to do if you encounter a bed bug problem.
Finally, Schutt interviews several entomologists about the recent decline in honey bee populations. Colony Collapse Disorder is a serious problem and the hemolymph-feeding bee mite, Varroa destructor, has been implicated in its spread. The mites are thought to weaken the honey bees but the real problem is that they appear to trigger and/or transmit a pair of deadly bee viruses (Kashmir bee virus and Israeli Acute bee paralysis virus). On a related note, Schutt focuses on the hysteria generated by a study that supposedly implicated cell phones as a cause of Colony Collapse Disorder.
In Trinidad and Brazil, Bill Schutt has tracked some of the most misunderstood and highly evolved mammals on the planet – vampire bats. Feared for the transmission of rabies, and the bloody scenes that follow a vampire bat attack, the author shows how vampire populations have exploded in some regions - all because of man. Schutt also details how the saliva from these highly specialized mammals has recently provided medical science with some of its most potent stroke-preventing agents. Dark Banquet readers will also learn about prehistoric vampire bats that dwarfed their modern cousins and the tropical explorers whose real-life encounters led to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Schutt also looks at the history of man's association with blood - from the bible, to early transfusions (sheep were popular blood donors), to the widespread practice of blood-letting, which was as commonly prescribed as aspirin is today. For example, Schutt details how George Washington was bled a total of 80 ounces within a thirteen hour period - on what would be the last day of his life. Why? For nearly two thousand years, physicians believed that blood was one of four bodily liquids called humors. The physical and mental health of an individual was thought to be dependent on keeping these humors in balance - which meant frequent purges, binges, and blood-letting (commonly referred to as "breathing a vein"). It wasn't until the turn of the 20th century that physicians learned that many diseases were actually caused by pathogenic organisms like bacteria.
Using humor and a serious enthusiasm for his subject, Bill Schutt’s book Dark Banquet will appeal to readers of popular science works by authors like Carl Zimmer (Parasite Rex), Robert Sullivan (Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants), and Mary Roach (Bonk, Stiff, Spook).
Dark Banquet contains over fifty illustrations by award-winning artist Patricia J. Wynne (who also contributed the artwork for this website).
Dark Banquet was edited by John A. Glusman (2007 Colby Award winner for his remarkable book, Conduct Under Fire).
The paperback version of Dark Banquet is now available from Three Rivers Press.
Finally, to read an extensive excerpt from Dark Banquet, please click on the following link to the Barnes and Noble Website. Then click on "Features" or "Read an Excerpt".