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Bats Use Their Heavy Wings To Land Upside Down

Have you ever wondered how do bats land upside down on a ceiling? This maneuver of theirs has puzzled scientists for long now. A new study led by Brown University researchers has fortunately shed light on the amazing ability of the creature. The paper entitled “Falling with Style: Bats Perform Complex Aerial Rotations by Adjusting Wing Inertia” is published in the journal PLOS Biology.

roosting bats

Bats rest in this position, with their feet facing the ceiling. But, how do they land in this manner?

With the use of high-speed cameras, scientists have deciphered the precise mechanism that allows bats to flip themselves over and land with their feet up; it is to be noted that this is the position for the bats to roost on the ceilings of caves, and underneath trees.

Bats of two species – Seba’s short-tailed bat and the lesser dog-faced fruit bat – were put to test in a special flight enclosure this week. Their movements were followed via three synchronised high-speed video cameras. Images were taken at 1,000 frames per second. Their motions were studied in relation to their weight distribution.


The Seba’s short-tailed bat — Carollia perspicillata.

The lesser short-nosed fruit bat — Cynopterus brachyotis

Since bats are not able to use aerodynamic forces for their landing because they are not flying fast enough before they retreat to the ceiling, they use their wings to do so. The observations of the researchers indicate that their wings being heavy relative to their body size (as opposed to other flying creatures) is, in fact, exploited to make of it an advantage.

During the process of landing with feet facing upwards, the bats flap their two wings such that one is folded in the direction of their body while the other is kept extended, further from itself. In this manner, the bats are able to play with their centre of mass which, when shifted, paves the way for them to utilise the force of inertia so that they can do their landing.

“Bats employ this specific maneuver every time they land, because for a bat, landing requires reorienting from head forward, back up, belly down, to head down, toes up,” says one of the researchers, Sharon Swartz.

“People have many opportunities to observe birds and insects flying, but the bat world is hidden in the night. The more we observe flight behavior in bats, the more we are impressed,” adds Swartz.


One comment

  1. Londoner on

    What amazing creatures they are, and how little we really know about them.

    Instead of complaining about bats and killing them, we should be studying them and contributing to scientific knowledge. Maybe that will help avoid conflicts between human activities and wildlife in future.

    We should remember that future generations will judge us on our behaviour today. Do we want to be blamed for making bats and other Mauritian wildlife extinct, as we now blame the 17th century Dutch settlers for killing off the dodo?


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