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After reading this question about vampires being back sleepers, I started wondering if vampires who slept on their back snored, and that led me to wondering about more.

I know there are differences between classical vampires and vampires in various franchises, so I'm open to hearing about the different "groups" of vampires, just not every little TV episode or movie that's been made. (In other words, talking about Buffy is fine, but talking about one episode in, say, The Night Stalker, where vampires showed up only in that episode is pointless.)

What bodily functions work in vampires? I know some limited versions of this have been asked before, but this is overall. We know you can stab a vampire in the heart with a knife and it doesn't kill them, but a wooden stake does. So the circulatory system works differently than in humans. There's been discussions about whether vampires can have an erection or not (obviously in Buffy, they can), and whether they can have babies, but there's a lot more.

Do vampires digest if they eat? (And if they eat, or even chew and swallow, then that presumes their body works enough to eliminate their food.) Is there any indication they perspire? Do their injuries heal? I know this is almost comical, do they pass gas? And do they actually sleep, or, for classical vampires, are they dead while the sun is up, only to revive after it sets?

In other words, what bodily functions work in vampires and which are suspended?

closed as too broad by Valorum, Ward, Jason Baker, Adamant, Blackwood Oct 5 '16 at 2:14

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    Does the fiction of a roleplaying game count here? It's outlined quite extensively in Vampire: the Masquerade – AncientSwordRage Jan 12 '12 at 19:09
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    @Pureferret: I don't know that game. If it's only one game, then that's a small and esoteric setting, but if it ties in with, say, classic vamps and works with that mythos, then it'd certainly be interesting to include. – Tango Jan 12 '12 at 19:12
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    I think it might count as too estoric, in that case. – AncientSwordRage Jan 12 '12 at 19:33
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    I'm sorry but I can't help but think of bash.org/?5598 when reading this question. – dlanod Jan 12 '12 at 22:24
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    @TangoOversway I'd say Vampire: the Masquerade is an influential source, and not too obscure. It's a pen & paper RPG, but it shaped some of the common tropes in the mainstream, such as the rivalry between Vampires and Werewolves (in fact, they sued the authors of the Underworld movies because of this). It even had its own short-lived TV show: Kindred: The Embraced. IMO, V:tM is closest to Ann Rice's vampires, and adds clans, powers and conspiracies. – Andres F. Feb 21 '12 at 2:47
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The specifics depend completely on the universe, and in most universes the specifics aren't given. However, in virtually all universes, vampires are assumed to process their primary food source - blood - extremely efficiently. You never see a vampire sitting on a toilet for its intended purpose. Practically speaking, such details are neither good nor FCC-allowed TV, so if they're in a bathroom at all, it's to fix makeup or feed on some young girl they've lured to a bar restroom.

However, exactly why they gloss over this depends on the universe; in most universes they are just dead, so no beating heart, internal organs inactive, other than blood nothing's really happening in there. Other universes set vampires up as being "infected" by something; in Underworld it's a virus, it's not real clear in Blade, but vampires in those universes are "alive" at some biological level.

You also virtually never see a vampire HAVE to bathe for personal hygiene reasons. The only reason they would is to clean up and look presentable again after a particularly messy meal, or after burying themselves in the ground to sleep. How enjoyable a shower or bath (or dip in the pool) would be is universe-dependent; True Blood vamps like it, Twilight vamps can swim really well (and don't have to breathe) but getting wet is usually more necessity than enjoyment, and most other universes don't explore it much.

Other basic human needs (mainly air, food, sleep and sex) vary by universe:

True Blood: Vampires sleep during the day; they experience harmful but not fatal effects by staying awake. Vampires need to feed often, and apparently only some form of human blood (or synthetic substitute) will do, but vampires don't automatically infect their victims if they bite but don't kill them. To turn a human requires fully draining the victim, giving them some vampire blood, and THEN laying with them in the ground to complete the transformation (just swapping blood won't do it; that does, however, produce other effects). This is a workaround to the classic problem of why, if vampires exist and feed on humans, the human race didn't die out centuries ago. Vampires cannot starve to death, but are weakened by lack of food. Vampires apparently do not need to breathe except to speak. Intimate relations between vampires and mortals is completely possible (it's a major subplot of the entire series), and generally enjoyable for both sides (maybe with a certain masochism required of the human participant), and both humans and vampires have a general desire for it, but it can never result in offspring no matter the combination of vampire and mortal.

Underworld: Vampires sleep mainly to heal or recover strength; it doesn't seem to be a requisite to sleep during the day. Vampires must eat often (like every day or two), and when feeding on a human they must infect or kill, but blood of any kind, including that of livestock, is perfectly fine (though human blood tastes best). Vampires will not die without blood, but become extremely weak for lack of it. Vampires can hold their breath for an extremely long time, but do pant with exertion and so apparently do need to breathe (the first film also implies that they can drown). Sex is possible and enjoyable between various species, and there is at some level a desire for it. We only ever see immortals doing the deed, but it's probably possible between human and vampire, and it is definitely possible for immortals to get pregnant (it's part of the backstory of the first movie).

Twilight: Vampires don't sleep; they can't. Vampires must eat every couple of weeks or so, and the ones that feed on humans generally eat more often, every few days or even every night. It is apparently possible to starve to death, but it would take a very long time and the instinct to feed would become uncontrollable. Feeding on humans is infect-or-kill, and almost always the latter. Animal blood is acceptable for survival, but is an acquired taste to say the least. Vampires do not need to breathe, ever, but it is uncomfortable not to not do so. The Twilight universe is unique in that vampires are not burned by the sun. Sex is possible, enjoyable and generally desirable, but tricky between mortal and immortal; the vampire must first control their thirst for human blood, and second a vampire is so strong they could easily crush their human partner. A human woman can get pregnant from a vampire - that's a tricky situation too and a major subplot of Breaking Dawn - but vampire women are barren.

Blade: Vampires aren't shown sleeping, but are less active during the day for obvious reasons. Vampires must feed, only human blood will do, and until the cure is found halfway through the first movie, biting a human is infect-or-die in this universe (but it takes a while for a bitten victim to turn). For Blade himself (a "daywalker" hybrid), there is a serum that replaces blood; it's unknown if it would serve the same purpose for vampires. Breathing seems necessary at some level. Sex is probably possible and, behind the scenes, common between immortals; vampires generally want blood more than sex from humans. It appears impossible for either side to get pregnant from the other; Blade was born from a human mother who was infected while carrying him.

Buffy: Probably the closest to mythical vampires of the lot; they must sleep during the day, and must feed frequently (every day or two is typical). I'd thought it was human-exclusive, but apparently animal blood is fine too. Feeding on a human does not turn them; all the blood needs to be drained and then the human needs to ingest some of the vampire's blood. Apparently breathing is not strictly necessary, possibly even for speech. Sex is possible, but most vampires want humans for food more than sex, and Angel (the main "good" vampire in the series) cannot experience joy without losing himself to his demonic side. Pregnancy isn't explored AFAIK.

Interview With A Vampire (Anne Rice universe): Vampires sleep during the day, and desire to feed every day but can survive for quite some time without food. Blood is simply for survival; a vampire's strength is not determined by how well-fed they are. As turning a vampire happens by giving a drained victim vampire blood, biting in itself doesn't kill; the primary cause of death is blood loss. Animal blood is an acceptable but disgusting substitute. Breathing isn't covered AFAIK. Actual sexual intercourse is not possible, but vampires derive pleasure from a number of near-sexual acts, some more socially acceptable than others. As such, vampires can neither become pregnant nor get anyone pregnant.

  • Great answer. On the Buffy vampires, I remember one scene when someone tried to strangle Angel and he just said "Guess what? Not using it [my breath]". So it seems they don't need to breathe. (How they can still talk is not explained.) – Daniel Roseman Jan 12 '12 at 19:43
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    Buffy vampires don't need human blood. Both Angel and later Spike made do quite well on blood purchased from a butcher. Unless this was a very dark butcher (unlikely for Angel) it was pig's blood. – Jeff Jan 12 '12 at 20:41
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    Hambly vampires: sleep during the day, cannot be woken. Are not known to sleep during night, but may be capable of it. Feed once a week or so. Cannot eat or drink anything but blood (or will be sorry). Have no heartbeat, need not breathe (and can fall out of the habit), and are cold and pale if unfed. Blood sustains the body, but the victim's death feeds the mind, so one who feeds on animals becomes dull and careless, which leads to certain death. Normal wounds heal very fast; burns from sunlight can take decades. No interest in sex; males incapable, females can fake it if recently fed. – Beta Feb 17 '12 at 4:56
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    Angel does manage to sire Connor, as shown in Angel. In the series Forever Knight, vampires sleep during the day (in any posture), it's an infection, it requires significant draining followed by ingestion of a vampire's blood to infect, they have breath and a pulse most of the time, and can feed using animal blood. It's worth noting that in FK, they can eat and drink, but food must be regurgitated. Nick survives on expired blood from the blood bank, but is known to have "eaten" rats. – aramis Sep 19 '12 at 16:01
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    How male vampires can enjoy physical relations while having no pulse and therefore no blood pressure remains a mystery! – Nick Jun 30 '14 at 10:55
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A few people have mentioned Vampire the Masquerade, but so far no one seems to have gone into detail, so I guess it's up to me.

Blood: VTM Vampires can drink human or animal blood, though animal blood is generally less nourishing and looked down upon by most.

Sleep: VTM Vampires have to sleep during the day, in fact, they are unable to stay awake as they will eventually just pass out. Most VTMpires (I know it sounds dumb but it's a convenient contraction) do not need to sleep in the ground or with earth from their graves or the like, except one clan called the Tzimisce who must sleep with dirt from a place important to them as a mortal.

Organs: all organs but the heart in a VTMpire have atrophied, and no longer function. All bodily fluids are replaced with blood, thus they sweat blood, cry blood, etc.

Sex and Pregnancy: most VTMpires have no desire for sex, feeding is said to feel better than sex ever did. If that wasn't enough of a deterrent they cannot get pregnant or get anyone else pregnant as they are technically dead. That and all their bodily fluids have been replaced with blood, all of them.

Breathing: entirely unnecessary, VTMpires are dead, corpses don't need oxygen.

Vampire lore Adherence: VTMpires are not repelled by crosses, garlic, or any form of water (running, holy, or otherwise). They do not need to be invited in, they do not need coffins, a stake in the heart is not lethal but does cause paralysis and the sun burns their skin like fire causing a speedy death if they are caught in it.

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I am afraid that your question, a common one to be sure, does not need to be asked in the vampire universe. Current vampires are extensions of tales written long ago by non-physicians when even physicians did not have today's knowledge of "bodily functions". For example, all vampires can walk which requires thoughts which are bioelectrical "bodily functions" to be transmitted from the brain, again, a bodily function, to the muscle groups in the legs where it is converted to biomechanical work (walking), again, a bodily function. In fact, the single most important "bodily function" retained when a human becomes a vampire is thought. The single most important organ retained is the brain. The exception being the creatures in I am Legend. Thus the real answer is that vampires retain the majority of "bodily functions" otherwise it would be impossible for them to use human form they are trapped in in any meaningful ways.
One can imagine that vampirism replaces the native "fuel" of the human body with "un-natural" fuel that still has to power the majority of basic human biology such as DNA replication, substrate metabolism, substrate catabolism, protein synthesis, etc. required in wound healing/tissue regeneration, vision, smell, taste, tactile sensation, etc, etc. The vampire fuel still has to work with the human body as is and in fact enhances alot of bodily functions.
It maybe like switching from 81 octain fuel to 95 octane fuel in a car that can benefit from higher octane fuel. You wouldn't ask if your lights or your radio would work but maybe if you can accelerate faster (not accurate I know but you get my point). If you noted that the car is driving better you would not wonder if pistons are moving, if axles are spinning, if brake lights are working, or any other "bodily functions" of the car is working. They would have all have to still work for the car to work as a car. Put it another way, only if vampirism causes a human to become say a tree, then you would be correct to ask about "bodily functions". Rest assured that all human functions be they erection, digestion, respiration, mastication, must all be retained or enhanced. Whether the new creature chooses to use those would be the question. Respiration, must be retained as all the retained bodily functions mentioned stem from biochemical reactions that require oxygen no matter what the new fuel may be (again, no one has said that vampirism caused atomic change to the human body, just that the dead body becomes reanimated). Whether subsets of cells such as the sperms are retained could be the real question as vampirism may accelerate their demise via apoptosis, necrosis, etc and leave male vampires sterile. Unfortunately, my explanation also points out why vampires can not fly or levitate as their very human body still has to follow all physical laws as well such as gravity. The only way vampires can levitate or fly would be to hypnotize/charm humans into believing they could or through human body independent and therefor unnatural acts such as astral projections that do not have to follow physical laws.

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    Was a wall of text your intention? :) – Dreamwalker Jan 21 '15 at 10:51
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Generally (taken from no specific source) vampires are dead corpses. None of the natural bodily functions can be assumed to work.

They are capable of working their muscles, so they CAN breathe, but there's no reason they have to.

They do not pump blood through their veins, so they won't bleed or bruise, and they have no body heat. Similarly, other things (such as blushing) which require an influx of blood will not function.

They do not heal naturally, as the systems that heal our bodies are driven by blood.

They don't necessarily sleep, though I'm sure they do something similar while tucked away for the day.

Their bodies do not change (excepting decay).

Anything that violates one of the above is a feature of their vampirism.

This is well modeled by the game Vampire: The Masquerade (as mentioned in comments). It is explicit in that vampires have the above features. Moreover, they supernaturally are restored to their at-death appearance (physically, including hair length & color) after each 'sleep' during the day, which is more like a magical hibernation. They don't heal wounds during this time.

In V:tM, vampires can simulate many of the above by using the blood they have consumed. By spending a 'blood point' (of which even very weak vampires typically have at least 10 or more when 'full') they can send blood to specific areas to provide body heat, blushing, etc. They can also spend blood points to heal wounds, at various costs dependent on the type of wound. Their bodies also do not typically decay (though some special types of vampire DO decay).

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    They may not heal naturally, but one of the hallmarks of a vampire in most universes (True Blood, Underworld, Buffy) is extremely fast repair of non-fatal wounds. – KeithS Jan 13 '12 at 15:18
  • @KeithS: Indeed. This is a feature of their vampirism, and I mentioned it again in my closing paragraph. – Jeff Jan 13 '12 at 18:47
  • +1 for VTM. It's often overlooked in Vampire literature. And, well, VTM aficionados often overlook the rest of the literature too, but that's a different debate :) – MPelletier May 31 '12 at 14:39
  • -1 for overly narrow and ignoring much of the fiction where it isn't true that they're corpses. – aramis Sep 19 '12 at 16:02
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    @aramis: How is it overly narrow? My first paragraphs are discussions of the traditional vampires in general and my closing paragraphs clearly state their source, which draws from many sources itself to quantify the traditional features into rules. I'm not familiar with ANY fiction where vampires aren't corpses, excepting perhaps one or two recent movies. – Jeff Sep 19 '12 at 18:47
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Someone mentioned that the Buffyverse vampires don't breathe. This is incorrect, vampires in the Buffyverse breathe but only to talk and such.

Twilight vamps are fully capable of breathing, they need to if they want to talk. The only reason they don't hold their breath forever, because they're capable of doing that, is because not breathing cuts off their sense of smell, and that's very uncomfortable for them. You need breath to talk and smell, duh.

As for the "bodily function question", it's a tough one. We assume that their lungs must work in some capacity because they'd need to breathe to talk and smell. Vampires are said to have very enhanced senses, most notably, their sense of smell, which, as I mentioned above, you need to breathe to smell. In saying this about their lungs functioning in some capacity. We have to assume that their heart would work in some way as well, how else would the blood they drink be dispersed throughout their body? Perhaps the blood they ingest "reanimates" the necessary organs so that they get the nutrients that they need from the blood they drink? Most vampire lore always says, or at least insinuates, that the brain is "reanimated" and able to function as normal, or, in a lot of cases, better than it did when they were human and alive. We have to assume that their nerve endings still work, because vampires in most vampire lore, are fully capable of feeling physical pain. Their brain would still send signals to their limbs and such, so they can walk and use their hands, arms, etc. It's the whole "undead" concept, here. So perhaps a vampire's bodily functions do work, just not in the same way they used to work when the vampire was human and alive. Vampire's are a whole different species to humans in almost every bit of vamp lore that's out there. As to whether they can have children? Either with each other, or even with a human. Well...that's up to the author of that specific piece of vampire fiction. I'd say, that yes, maybe it's possible, between a human and a vamp, specifically, a human female and a vampire male. I can't see how a female vamp would be physically capable of reproducing, with a male vampire, maybe a female vampire could get pregnant by a male human, but we'll obviously never know.

This is all from my head, not specific source of vampire lore. Except for the Twilight and Buffyverse things at the very top of my comment.

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In the Undead series, (Mary-Janice Davidson) vampires do not breathe. All their internal bodily functions cease, except it seems the sexual organs (vital to the series).

Additionally:

  • They need blood regularly - human or vampire - not animal. They cannot ingest solid food, but juices, non-creamed tea/coffe, and yay, alcohol!
  • They sleep every night - virtually as corpses and sunlight will kill.
  • They make new vampires the traditional way - drain blood and give dying person vampire blood to ingest. Person dies and a day later has turned.
  • They possess all the traditional powers.
  • Vampires can have full sex with either other vampires or humans, but both sexes are infertile.

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