Malthus: vampire slayer

Vampires can't be real or they'd be everywhere -- Laura McLay's ground-breaking research into vampire population dynamics demonstrate a dismal Mathusian character in vamp-growth that put the lie to the sucker:
This argument becomes even more overwhelming if you model a vampire population as a branching process or birth-death process and assume that each vampire in the population has probability Pj of producing j offspring (with j=0,1,2,… ). The vampire population would either explode or die out, depending on the expected number of offspring per vampire. But if you take into account the fact that vampires live many, many generations (they’re virtually immortal) and may create thousands of offspring, the population explodes (if you assume that each vampire creates at least one vampire, on average, before it dies). With those numbers, vampires would not be living under the radar–they would be everywhere!
on vampires and stochastic processes (via Futurismic)

(Image: Vampires are real, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike image from Eyelash_divided's Flickr stream)


  1. Dam… we’ve been discovered… and I thought our numbers were thin because we are so easy to kill off?

  2. Hey, Cory, are you making a subtle twisted Malthus/Mathus pun, or did you accidentally leave the ‘L’ out?

  3. Vampire populations go through boom-bust cycles of roughly a thousand years, with long intervals of what looks like near extinction. The few vampires that are long-lived spend by far most of their time in hibernation. Nobody notices just a few widespread disappearances.
    There’s lots of human meat around right now. Expect them to be back in numbers once the Grand Ol’ Depression turns into full-on societal collapse.

  4. Except that vampire don’t live forever: they fight each others, they can die by vampire hunter, werewolf, sun etc.

    Obviously, Laura McLay isn’t familiar with White Wolf books: usualy vampires don’t create new vampires without the need for it. If they are too many already, they simply don’t.

  5. Until I read this I was scared shitless of vampires – thank god someone has put time and effort into proving they don’t exist.

    Now, if someone could set my mind at rest about Werewolves, Zombies, Ghouls, Ghosts, Goblins, Trolls, Living Mummies, Invisible men and Frankenstein’s monsters, I’ll be able to get some sleep.

  6. NZ faces paranormal threats, SIS says

    New Zealand continually faces threats from Zombies, Werewolves, Demons and Vampires, the Supernatural Intelligence Service says in its annual report.

    The consequences of “realised threats” could include death, injury, very substantial property damage, compromise of government and private sector information and individual souls.

    The report for the year to June 2008, tabled in Parliament today, gives no details of the threats the country faces or where they come from.

    It says those details have been omitted for security reasons.

    “The service’s targets continue to offer us new challenges,” Director of Supernatural Funny Bucker said.

    “By and large they are pretty inventive.

    “And the external environment — the opportunities and threats posed not just by the targets themselves but by the changing world we operate in — means we need to think about improving all the time.”

    The report says the SIS worked with the police on “various investigations” during the year under review when there was an overlap between psychics and law enforcement.

    During the year there were 25 domestic interception warrants in force and 14 of them were issued in the 12 months to June 2008.

    The other 11 were issued during the previous year but remained in force for some part of the year under review.

    “The methods of interception and seizure used were listening devices and the copying of documents,” the report said.

    “The information obtained materially contributed to the detection of supernatural activities prejudicial to security.”

    Apparently the budget for the NZ Supernatural Intelligence Service has to remain secret because, once again, such information would be prejudicial to security.

  7. Vampires are not the most social of beings, so I imagine there’s be an apocalyptic battle or two, once enough of them had worked out the population implications, but the survivors would work out some way to ranch humans so the supply didn’t run out. Or invest in stem cell research.

    @#8 Will Tingle:

    Sorry to break it to you, but trolls are everywhere.

  8. I always thought that to turn into a vampire you had to not only be bitten, but also had to drink the blood of the vampire as well (see It’s a bit more complex than just running around biting as many people as you can and turning them all into insta-vampires. I – I think that’s zombies, right?

  9. As people have alluded to, authors of vampire books are not as stupid as McLay suggests (not that her analysis is that original, as I’ve seen several similar ones, including bizarrely one on the physics preprint server ArXiv).

    The idea that vampires can *choose* to create offspring rather than mindlessly creating a vampire out of every meal victim has a long tradition in fiction — even in the original _Dracula_ novel, as presumably Dracula fed off of and killed the crew of the the ship carrying Dracula’s coffin to England (it ran aground in Whitby with a dead crew) and yet none of the crew were later mentioned as becoming vampires.

  10. I always thought that was sort of obvious.
    But only if you take into account how vampires turn others into vampires.
    If you assume each bitten victim turns into one, well, they would rule the face of the earth.
    But some authors have this more elaborate way of becoming a vampire, involving drinking their blood and all sort of rituals, so, that would reduce their multiplying capability drastically, so, who knows?

  11. You also haven’t taken into account the fact that vampires have natural predators that keep down their numbers. As the population of vampires become more active, so do their predators (let’s call them Buffies for short). While typically there’s only been one Buffy per generation (although this has changed recently), the one Buffy seems reasonably effective in keeping down vampire numbers and the vampire/Buffy ratio has remained a constant over time. This has been aided by anti-vampire hysteria that arises whenever vampires become too active.

    Not that I’ve spent too much time thinking about this mind you…

  12. Okay, I’m sad now, all these comments and not one mention of Peter Watts. He might not have been the first to give a biological basis for vampiricism, but he sure did it with the most style. I mean come one, cross-wiring in the visual cortex as the fundamental basis for vampires aversion to crosses? Long term hibernation as a direct result of similar breeding rates between predator and prey? Hell, he even gave a decent explanation for why they need to drink blood, unlike most of the “realistic vampires” I’ve seen.

  13. Edward Cullen is real. When enough 14 year old girls scream about a male vampire for long enough, their screams and tears make him become a real vampire.

    Little known vampire legend.

  14. Perhaps Laura McLay drew her vampire knowledge from Stephanie Meyer? I mean, I think Meyer has an “infection upon bite” rule in her works. Of course, she also has them sparkling in the sun, but that’s a different matter….

  15. I would like to point out that #14 has a point, but forgets to examine the situation more clearly.

    Vampires are, as was mentioned earlier, not the most social creatures. The natural predator of the vampire is not the vampire hunter, but rather other vampires. After all, when you are essentially immortal the only way to advance is over someone else’s corpse. There’s no waiting for your superiors to expire from old age.

    Therefore, knowing that the vampire you create may be the very one that destroys you, the vampire population is kept directly in check based on how much security each individual coven can procure both internally and externally.

    Also, if they infight enough, it provides a good enough explanation of the reason why they never really secure much power… as far as we know.

  16. Unlike zombies, which “procreate” with abandon, Vampires are intelligent and social top-of-the-food-chain predators. One would imagine they would practice a form of eugenics, where the weak and the indiscreet would be destroyed before they became a threat to the status quo, either through over-breeding or by revealing their existence to a formerly skeptical public.

    Competition would also encourage Vamp-on-Vamp crimes of destruction, to ensure status and power within the community.

    And I think the novelty of the experience would lead to the accidental destruction of many new Vamps. You know, walking out of the house to get the mail at noontime, and such.

  17. Again, population dynamics between predator and prey are not solely due to predator-prey interactions. They depend also on the interaction of the predators, in competing for territory, etc. Territory competition is an effective and possibly lethal mechanism to prevent overpredation, while not requiring any intelligent control of reproduction.

    Not, of course, that said reduction would be impossible with vampires. The point is that there are many behavioral traits that can limit density in a potentially rapidly-growing population, based on known biology.

  18. In Peter Watts’ excellent SF novel “Blindsight” (in which vampires are present but not central to the plot), the human sub-species known as vampires hibernate to avoid wiping out their own food supply:

    “With vampires … [the] problem wasn’t so much a lack of prey as a lack of difference from it; vampires were such a recent split from the ancestral baseline that the reproductive rates hadn’t diverged. This was no woodland-variety lynx-hare dynamic, where prey outnumbered predators a hundred to one. Vampires fed on things that bred barely faster than they did. They would have wiped out their own food supply in no time if they hadn’t learned how to ease off on the throttle. By the time they went extinct they’d learned to shut down for decades.”

  19. Since Vampires are mythic beings, you would have to agree on their traits ahead of time to decide if they would wipe themselves out. Without knowing the mechanics of the vampire we’re speaking about, we can’t discuss reproductive rates. If the vampires in question created new vampires just by biting someone, then, well, we’ve all seen zombie movies. Since we’re assuming the drive for blood would be inherit in the vampire, they would aggressively reproduce. But most animals don’t reproduce by coming in contact with other animals, so if such of thing as vampire did exist, it would have to have some process of creating new vampires which would be, in some way controllable (ie, only killed victims rise as vampires, vampires can choose who receives their gift/curse, so forth and so on). Even minor controls would assure vampires could, indeed, keep their population from outsourcing their food supply.

    God… did I just write all that?

  20. What this seems to overlook is the factor of a vampire oversight committee (such as in “Sucks To Be Me” by Kimberly Pauley. Other (and better) oversight groups might examine the siring of vampires in the world and executes them (the sires or those sired, either) if they fail to meet a certain volley allowable criteria.

  21. It is interesting reading the comments here and there. As I would expect (why?) the comments here tend to be more scientific and less fannish (with a few posted in both places.)

    There is a thesis (or at least a good/interesting sociology paper) in posting an identical article on different social sites and then comparing the differences in the comments generated.

  22. Actually they’re susceptible to the same fungi that’s doing in frogs worldwide, so they’re numbers are way down.

  23. According to Kim Harrison, most undead vamps don’t last more than 30 years. Their support network dies off, they can’t develop a new support network because they’re kind of creepy and drinking blood from unwilling victims is like eternity eating lima beans. So they lose interest in unlife, go crazy and wander out into the sun. It’s a more nuanced view of vampirism, where the hunger is for love as much as for blood.

  24. C’mon, Cory, I know you read Zelazny.

    PS: If you hang a little statue of Kernunnos over your coffin, it might keep the dayhunters away… for a while…

  25. I think a few people have pointed this out already, but most vampire lore holds that being bitten doesn’t automatically transform one into a vampire – vampires have discretion over whether their victims become vampires themselves or simply die.

  26. to make another vampire takes effort…. and it has to be someone you really *REALLY* want around because they are going to be around for a very long time… just think of how many wife’s you really want to keep around for a thousand years???? ewww…. hard to keep one wife happy ten years…

    Think of it as the ultimate birth control…

  27. Getting an accurate count of the vampire population is notoriously difficult since census workers generally only work during the day.

  28. Oh, come on! After all, this is the 21st century. Refrigerators, freezers, fresh blood, frozen blood (for those hot summer nights), whole blood, blood on tap, blood to go. Technology is a vampire’s best friend. They’ve never had it so easy or had so much choice.

  29. Thank the BoingBoing gods for this post. Because of it, I discovered the WONDERFUL novel Blindsight by Peter Watts. It is as good as Snow Crash, for all the same reasons.

  30. Jon Alvide Lindqvist’s “Let The Right One In” suggests that the majority of vampires commit suicide out of horror/despair at what they have become. Which could also keep numbers down, by introducing an extremely high “infant mortality” rate.

  31. Darwins theory of evolution is the answer. we are all vampires really but our ancestors got jiggy with vampires we are the outcome…… see in the last 200 yrs our life expectancy has doubles more or less…. and a stake through the heart will kill us lol.

    Women dont like garlic breath these are all pointers to the inevitable truth lol.


  32. Really depends on which version of the vampire stories you’re going with.

    First, we’ve got the legendary vampires. Of which many, many cultures had some variation… with immense differances. And at least some could fit the not-that-bad-of-a-guy-for-a-bloodsucker mold.

    Then there’s all the vampire fiction… with tons and tons and tons of variation, especially in terms of feeding patterns, powers, degrees of infectability. Not to mention vampiric society, and all that entails – which is pretty much universally described as including population control.

    In at least some versions of both legendary and fictional vampires, they are completely indistinguishable from normal humans except under specific circumstances.

    So, yeah – mathematical model is worthless without figuring what what the hell kind of vampire you’re talking about.

    Though I still wish somebody would dump the zombie apocalypse concept and replace it with a fast-infection vampire or non-lunar werewolf apocalypse.

  33. Vampires can choose if the want to create a new vampire or not; they’re not zombies !

    Do your research !

  34. 1) Not everyone who gets bit by a vampire turns into one, most of them die.

    2) Actual vampire slayers keep the population down, such as Jefferson Twilight, the Blacula killer from The Venture Bros.

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