Vampire bats attack penguin chicks

Watch the bats feeding on the unsuspecting birds.

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Documentary makers have filmed vampire bats preying on Humboldt penguin chicks.

The team travelled to the outskirts of the Atacama Desert in southern Peru to record how the penguins interacted with other species.

Despite anecdotal evidence of the bats attacking penguins, the behaviour had never been recorded before.

The extraordinary footage features in the BBC One series Penguins: Spy in the huddle.

Humboldt penguins breed in coastal South America where they hunt fish in the cold waters of the current also named after the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt.

The production team were first drawn to the location by the abundant wildlife, particularly the penguins' survival struggles against a neighbouring colony of 20,000 predatory sea lions.

Although they witnessed vampire bats feeding on the sea lions, it took patience and specialist kit to witness them attacking penguin chicks.

Producer Matthew Gordon admitted that when they first began filming, they were sceptical that the bats fed on penguins.

Penguin party

A Humboldt penguin dives

Meet penguins living where the driest land meets the richest sea

Find out how the tropical birds evolved to survive cold climates

Watch how a colony works together to survive the cold

"Although the local scientists had seen evidence of bite marks on the penguins' feet, no one could say confidently that it happens as they had never witnessed it before," he told BBC Nature.

In the dark caves that are home to the penguins, Mr Gordon, fellow producer Phillip Dalton and cameraman Jim Clare waited patiently in a hide using infrared equipment to monitor exactly what happened.

"As we scanned the colony using the infrared LED, the team observed the penguins reacting strangely to something on the ground, they nervously pecked and showed clear signs of agitation," he said.

"We then fixed our cameras onto one area and waited. Finally, after several hours the team noticed glimmers of light reflecting from the vampire's eyes as it darted around the penguins' feet."

After a further week of observations, Mr Clare was able to capture the bats' feeding behaviour.

"Due to the fact that the penguins are very alert and vigilant the bats seemed to wait until it was extremely dark with little or no moon and star light," explained Mr Gordon.

"Even then, they could not get to feed easily on the adult penguins who were more aware of them. So the bats had to resort to feeding on the less suspecting juvenile penguins."

Mr Gordon described the team as "ecstatic" when they finally got the shots in the last few weeks of a 165 day shoot at the location.

The documentary follows the lives of a variety of penguin species using some unusual filming techniques, including cameras disguised as boulders and even penguins themselves.

Penguins: Spy in the huddle continues on BBC One on Monday, 25th February at 2100 GMT.

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