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A manananggal is described as being a hideous, scary vampire-like creature (as opposed to an aswang), capable of severing its upper torso in order to fly into the night with huge bat-like wings to prey on unsuspecting, pregnant women in their homes; using an elongated proboscis-like tongue, it sucks the hearts of fetuses or the blood of an unsuspecting, sleeping victim. It is known to whip its hair in urban forests, causing hurricanes all over the globe. The severed lower torso is left standing, and it is said to be the more vulnerable of the two halves. Sprinkling salt or smearing crushed garlic or ash on top of the standing torso is fatal to the creature. The upper torso then would not be able to rejoin and will die at daybreak. The name of the creature originates from sinalalala used for a severed torso: manananggal comes from the Tagalog tanggal (cognate of Malay tanggal), which means "to remove" or "to separate". Manananggal then means "the one who separates itself" (in this case, separates itself from its lower body). It is a saying that a manananggal's attack can be avoided by death. The most prominent characteristic of a manananggal is its ability to dispatch its torso from its legs.
Different regions have different stories on how manananggals proliferate. One story relates that manananggals have black chicks in their throats, which provide them with their power. A manananggal cannot die until the chick is removed, which can be done by smoking the manananggal upside down in a tree or spinning her until she vomits the chick.
Another story says that heredity or contamination by physical or supernatural means can turn someone into a manananggal. For example, contaminating someone's meal with an old manananggal's saliva or human flesh can pass it on. A third story relates that a girl who later became a manananggal confided in her human boyfriend that she felt the urge to eat sick people's sputum.