Mike Bodenchuk is out for blood. Every month, the Texas state director of the Wildlife Services division of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service travels from his office in San Antonio down to livestock sales barns, ranches, and/or feedlots in South Texas, where he carefully scans the cattle around him for crimson rivulets snaking down their backs, necks, or ankles. The bloody streaks are a sign that something has been feeding on the livestock.

The hungry interlopers in question are vampire bats, critters that are, depending on who you ask, either currently inching their way northward, poised to cross over from Mexico into Texas at any moment, or already here, part of the influx of bloodthirsty new Texans that includes Elon Musk, Meadow from The Sopranos, and three gazillion Californians.

Typically, vampire bats live in Central and South America. They feed exclusively on blood, and their favorite dining establishments are the backs of livestock, wild boar, or, on more adventurous evenings, a tapir. But warming temperatures have pushed the creatures farther and farther north. According to the Texas Farm Bureau, vampire bats have been detected as near to Texas as forty miles south of the border.

As a result, the USDA has increased surveillance efforts in South Texas. Bodenchuk is the agency’s agricultural Van Helsing, though unlike the Dutch professor hell-bent on hammering wooden stakes through the hearts of the undead, Bodenchuk harbors no ill will toward his vampires. He simply wants to raise awareness about the bats and the rabies they may carry.

Actually, Bodenchuk said, he finds vampire bats fascinating. Did I know, for instance, that the bats don’t suck the blood from a cow, but make a tiny cut with their incisors and then lap at the wound like minuscule, winged Chihuahuas? (I didn’t know that.) And did I know that while they feed, they introduce an anticoagulant into the cut through their saliva, which ensures that the blood keeps flowing for the duration of their feeding? (I didn’t know that either.) Most of the time, the blood continues to flow after they finish feeding, causing the gory streaks that Bodenchuk looks for during his inspections.

Rabies is the greatest threat bats pose, rather than any injury incurred during their feeding. They consume only about 20 milligrams of blood per nightly meal—not enough to do serious harm to their living buffets. But an infected bat can easily transmit rabies to their prey through their saliva while they feed. But, as Bodenchuk told me emphatically over the phone one day in March between bites of the Wendy’s hamburger he had picked up for lunch, the rabies is not the bats’ fault, and no one blames them for it. “We’re not mad at the bats!”

There’s no cause for a rabies panic, he said. Bodenchuk has surveyed over 10,000 head of livestock since October 2020 and has not found a single indication of vampire bat bites. Still, he added, vampire bats have been spotted in areas of Mexico farther north than the southernmost tip of Texas. “There’s no reason to think they’re not in Texas already,” Bodenchuk said. “We just haven’t seen the rabies yet.”

While rabies is fatal for animals, bats can survive over a week after contracting the disease. And since they feed every night, that means a single rabid bat could potentially infect ten or more cattle, horses, or sheep before dying. The disease could then possibly be transmitted to a human, if an infected animal’s saliva came in contact with a human’s mucous membranes or entered the body through a small cut. Thanks to a vaccine, which is highly effective if administered before symptoms appear, rabies deaths among humans are very rare in the United States—five were recorded in 2021, and there were zero reported cases or deaths in 2019 and 2020. And many veterinarians and ranchers are familiar with and alert to the symptoms of rabies in animals, which may include struggling to swallow or stumbling around as if drunk.

Having rabid bats in the area would mostly be a hassle, Bodenchuk said. “We’re trying to keep people from becoming exposed and having to go through those expensive series of shots as a result of them trying to help their livestock.”

The simplest way for ranchers to protect their stock, Bodenchuk and other experts told me, would be to vaccinate them. Currently, most livestock in the area aren’t vaccinated for rabies because they don’t often have contact with carriers. Whether the appearance of vampire bats in Texas would make the cost of vaccination worthwhile to farmers and ranchers is up for debate. As Tracy Tomascik, associate director of the Commodity and Regulatory Activities division of the Texas Farm Bureau, explained: “You don’t want to vaccinate for things you’re not exposed to regularly because there’s an expense there, and there’s the effort and stress of handling those animals to provide that vaccination.”

Fortunately, debates over vaccines have always proved to be simple and easily resolved.

Some important facts about these potential new Texans: First, and arguably most important, vampire bats are extremely cute. They have the pugnacious little faces of a grubby elementary schooler who just learned curse words, as well as pointy elfin ears and flattened noses that look like hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. Their fur ranges in color from dark brown to a rich Jennifer Aniston blond. From the tips of their heads to the bottoms of their bottoms, they average about 3.5 inches long, with a wingspan of about 7 inches. They typically weigh a tight ounce and a half.

Also, they have amazing personalities. Unlike Edward Cullen—the sullen vampire from Twilight, whose skin glittered like a bachelorette party invitation but who was seemingly incapable of keeping a conversation going—vampire bats are charmers. If they could communicate beyond high-frequency echolocation, they would probably be great at parties and know all about the importance of emotional reciprocity.

“They’re this incredibly, incredibly charismatic and social species,” said Sebastian Stockmaier, a postdoctoral researcher affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Natural Sciences. Stockmaier explained that relationships between vampire bats grow similarly to human friendships. Faced with a new peer, a vampire bat will start by making small, low-cost social investments in the new individual, such as grooming them. Then, it waits to see whether its efforts are reciprocated. If so, the bat makes greater and greater investments in the relationship, going so far as to share food. If the favors aren’t returned though, the bat stops investing in the relationship and then, presumably, spends the rest of its life making passive-aggressive comments about its almost-friend to everyone in the roost.

As Stockmaier effused about the exceptional social skills of these hematophages, he expressed concern that I might have already been turned against them by detractors. “I’m sure you’ve heard many negative things about vampire bats,” he said sadly.

It’s true, vampire bats have some tough PR to overcome. They look like flying rats, they are associated with the undead, and they are saddled with the incontrovertible reality that their favorite meal, snack, and dessert is the blood of another living organism. In areas where vampire bats are common, the animals are often treated as pests and are dispatched in gruesome ways—their fur coated with poison, their roosts burned.

Right now, government officials and scientists are doing their best to prevent that kind of widespread killing of bats. Until their arrival is confirmed, Bodenchuk and his USDA team have been working to raise awareness about vampire bats in South Texas, giving informational material to ranchers that explains how to identify a vampire bite and how to tell whether a cow has rabies. The materials urge them not to kill bats or destroy their roosts. Since vampire bats often roost with other species of bats, Bodenchuk said that destroying a roost would mean “killing a lot of innocent bats, and a lot of bats that aren’t vampires.”

When I assured Stockmaier that I had not been turned against vampire bats, and that the experts I had spoken with so far had spoken warmly about the flying little bloodsuckers (more accurately: blood-lappers), he brightened considerably. “We don’t want to vilify these bats,” he said. “They feed on blood. It’s just what they do.”

Adorable socialites with great interpersonal skills who mostly don’t have rabies? Even if they are hematophages, what more could you want from a new neighbor, really?