Brazilian free-tailed bats don’t need a Batplane: they can wing it at speeds as fast as about 99 mph, researchers have discovered.
In fact, that’s a new record for horizontal flight speed for any bird or bat, scientists said on Wednesday. In the realm of the birds, while swifts can fly at horizontal speeds of over 62 miles per hour, these bats are faster. (Remarkably, peregrine falcons can exceed 180 mph when diving, but that’s not horizontal flight.) The scientists caught bats as they emerged from a bat cave in Texas and then measured their speeds from the air, using antennas mounted on the struts of an airborne Cessna. Their fastest measurement from a bat was about 99.5 mph.
Sharon Swartz, a coauthor of a new study on the topic and a professor of biology at Brown University, said while they don’t know exactly how the bats can fly so quickly, the study points towards how special bat wings are as compared to the wings of other animals that can fly.
“In particular, bat wings are [made] of skin, which is soft and stretchy,” Swartz said in email to FoxNews.com.
That’s very different from the stiff wings that birds and insects sport, she said; bat wing muscles can even adjust the stiffness of the skin as the bats fly.
“What bats have is remarkably distinct, and we are only beginning to fully grasp the significance of this,” she added.
Kamran Safi, also a coauthor on the new study and a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, said that ecologically or evolutionarily speaking, it’s difficult to know why the bats have developed the capacity to fly so fast.
“Possibly the food resources (insects) are distributed over vast areas but in clumped heaps,” he said by email, “so you can imagine there are vast areas with nothing and only in some places large aggregations of insects.”
The scientists conducted the research at nighttime in July of 2009, and they collected data from seven bats. After capturing a bat emerging from the cave, a researcher glued a small transmitter to its back, and then its flight speed was measured from the plane. The study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, reports that the transmitters fell off eventually.
Veronica Zamora, a bat researcher based at the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico, said in an email to FoxNews.com that this finding was “an amazingly interesting discovery but not surprising.”
Given all we don’t know about bats, she said, “the more we study them using novel technology, the more they will fascinate us.”