Tiny wing hairs allow bats gauge speed and control flight

A new study has discovered that tiny hairs present on a bat’s wings actually helps the mammal to gauge speed and control flight.

It also found that getting rid of the hair alters the way bats fly.

The bat is the only mammal truly capable of flight. Its wings are actually flexible membranes spread between its arms and hands.

The authors of the research article reported that the tiny hairs spread across the bat wing”s dorsal and ventral surfaces act like the Pitot tubes on aircraft wings and allows fine control over aerodynamics as airflow changes during manoeuvres.

Dr Susanne Sterbing-D”Angelo, of the Institute for Systems Research at the University of Maryland in the USA, used a scanning electron microscope to map the distribution of the hairs in two species of bat: the big brown bat (an insect eater) and the short-tailed fruit bat.

They showed that the wing hairs were typically arranged in rows, with some minor differences between the two species of bats.

The researchers then demonstrated that stimulation of the wing hairs, with brief puffs of air from different directions, led to stimulation of the sensory nerve cells at the base of the hairs. This was distinct from tactile responses due to physical indentation of the skin in conditions of high-level airflow.

“What these guys have done, which is absolutely fabulous, is to prove in an experimental situation that the air patterns on the wings work in the way that we have been proposing,” said Bullen.

“They give sensory feedback to the bat that enables them to fly right to the limits of performance and control.”

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“We now have evidence that there”s a correlation between observed hair patterns and aerodynamic ability, which is reflected by the different foraging strategies,” he added.

The study has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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