Bat wing practice maximises flight efficiency

August 13, 2014 by Geoff Vivian
"Some small West Australian bats of a particular group can entirely flatten their wings," Mr McKenzie says. Credit: Doug Beckers

Australian bats developed a high-speed flying technology some 50 million years before aircraft engineers, according to Department of Parks and Wildlife zoologist Norm McKenzie.

"It's called, among people who design , flat plate ," Mr McKenzie says.

"In modern aircraft, the very latest airframe designs, you get much of your lift off the body of the aircraft rather than body of the wings so it cuts the turbulence down and therefore saves energy.

"Flat plate aerodynamics has not been recognised in animals before."

Together with aerodynamics engineer Bob Bullen, he made the discovery after several years studying in their spare time.

"During our studies of bat flight and their foraging strategies we noticed two things," he says.

"Some small West Australian bats of a particular group can entirely flatten their wings.

Flying animals, like aircraft, have curved or cambered wings which provides lift.

The wing beat of flying birds and bats and insects provides a thrust but the profile of the wing as it cuts through the air provides lift.

Camping trip delivers second enigma

The other puzzle came when they were camping at Cape Kerauden in the Pilbara.

"I was doing some slow motion photography of bats flying out over the mangroves," he says.

"I was watching the bats belonging to the genus Mormopterus as they hunted round the mangroves just after dusk.

"A group of them suddenly gained a bit of altitude and then suddenly took off over my head and up the coast at high speed.

"They accelerated to over 40km/hr which on our calculations was highly unlikely.

"Not only did they accelerate but they were flapping their wings more slowly than they were doing when they were hunting above the canopy at lower speed."

They spent several years dissecting bats, taking measurements, and making calculations before announcing that at least three species of Mormopterus and one of Tadarida practice flat plate aerodynamics.

"It pulls its tail membrane up against its crotch, so the whole airfoil, the whole wing and body is not as long," Mr McKenzie says.

"That means the air is dragging over the surface of the bat for a shorter distance so there's less drag.

"And the most clever thing is it straightens its wing out.

"It either saves it a lot of energy when it's travelling distances or it travels those distances much quicker."


Mr Bullen is proprietor of the conservation biology consultancy Batcall.

They analysed 22 bat species for the study, and found flat plate aerodynamics capabilities in (Mormopterus beccarii, M. loriae, M. planiceps and Tadarida australis).

Explore further: Bats inspire 'micro air vehicle' designs

Related Stories

Bats inspire 'micro air vehicle' designs

February 18, 2014

By exploring how creatures in nature are able to fly by flapping their wings, Virginia Tech researchers hope to apply that knowledge toward designing small flying vehicles known as "micro air vehicles" with flapping wings.

Bats save energy by drawing in wings on upstroke: study

April 10, 2012

( -- Bat wings are like hands: meaty, bony and full of joints. A new Brown University study finds that bats take advantage of their flexibility by folding in their wings on the upstroke to save inertial energy. The ...

Tiny muscles help bats fine-tune flight, stiffen wing skin

May 23, 2014

Bats appear to use a network of hair-thin muscles in their wing skin to control the stiffness and shape of their wings as they fly, according to a new study. The finding provides new insight about the aerodynamic fine-tuning ...

BaTboT is up for imitating smart bat maneuvers

June 3, 2012

( -- Robotics researchers in Spain and the U.S. are studying bats for their design work on drones. Bat wings are highly articulated, with skeletons similar to those of human arms and hands. The researchers have built ...

Recommended for you

Discovery helps improve accuracy of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing

September 21, 2017

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley and Massachusetts General Hospital have identified a key region within the Cas9 protein that governs how accurately CRISPR-Cas9 homes in on a target DNA sequence, and have ...

New hermit crab uses live coral as its home

September 20, 2017

A new hermit crab species can live in a walking coral's cavity in a reciprocal relationship, replacing the usual marine worm partner, according to a study published September 20, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by ...

The right way to repair DNA

September 20, 2017

Is it better to do a task quickly and make mistakes, or to do it slowly but perfectly? When it comes to deciding how to fix breaks in DNA, cells face the same choice between two major repair pathways. The decision matters, ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3 / 5 (2) Aug 13, 2014
My teacher of physics always used flat plate aerodynamics to explain any wing designs lift force. Flat surface always has less drag at high speeds (tends to be about 0).
not rated yet Aug 14, 2014
Solid article

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.