You’ve probably seen plenty of bat costumes this past Halloween, but none as curious as the real-life inspiration. According to a study at the Brown University, bats defy the popular belief that lighter wings make for a better flight.
- The Brown University studied bats in flight and found impressive uses of inertia
- Bats have the heaviest wings in proportion with its body weight
- These flying mammals use inertia to propel themselves into fantastic flips in tight places
- The study focused on two species of bats: Cynopterus brachyotis and Carollia perspicillata
With the highest contrast in wing to body ratio among flying mammals, bats are actually really impressive. Researchers just found this flying mammal actually gains some pretty exciting benefits from its wings’ heft.
Study leader Sharon M. Swartz explains we usually tend to think that heavier objects (or animals) have more of a problem flying than the lighter ones, given that the higher the weight, the more energy is required. This tendency is reflected in the designers’ habit to make sure everything they create is lighter than the model before.
In a recent paper in the journal PLOS Biology, Dr. Swartz and a team of researchers wrote about two bat species that defy the principle, talking about the important role of inertia in bat flight. Inertia is often overlooked when studying the matter, in spite one of the critical forces at play.
Thus, bats use inertia by drawing in one of their heavy wings; this helps them propel into the fantastic flips they need to make in order to ace the upside down landing. Because landings often take place in tight spaces – caves, for example – there’s not enough room for bats to be using the aerodynamic as the primary catalyst.
Inertia is often “less appreciated as part of the movement repertoire of animals”, explains Swartz, but it’s actually the one helping animals move through water and fly through air. It includes, ground reaction forces, hydrodynamic, and aerodynamic forces. Dr. Swartz is also a renowned bat researcher at the Aeromechanics and Evolutionary Morphology Lab at Brown.
Researchers studied the role of inertia by examining the flight habits of two fruit bats (Cynopterus brachyotis) and three short-tailed bats (Carollia perspicillata). The bats were trained to land on the ceiling of an enclosed space. By using three high-speed cameras, the researchers were able to study the bats’ body movements right before they landed.
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