A bat’s ability to land upside-down defeats the capabilities of even the most refined modern aircraft, and now, scientists from Brown have learned exactly how they do it.

Using high-speed cameras and a special, purpose-built flight enclosure, researchers were able to observe how these soaring mammals capitalise on the size of their wings, which are heavy for the size of their bodies when compared to those of birds and insects, and help them perform the notorious upside-down landing.

The mammals must be able to perform the manoeuvre in order to be able to roost upside-down on branches, or on the roof of caves.

In the study, the University observed two separate species: Seba’s short-tailed bat and the lesser dog-faced fruit bat. The movements of the bats were tracked using three, state-of-the-art video cameras that can capture an image at 1,000 frames per second, and studied the weight distribution within the bats’ bodies and wings.

The scientists found that by flapping both wings while folding one slightly in towards their body, a bat can alter its centre of gravity and perform a mid-air flip that allows them to land on the ceiling.

“Flying animals all manoeuvre constantly as they negotiate a three-dimensional environment,” says Brown Biology and Engineering Professor, Sharon Swartz. “Bats employ this specific manoeuvre every time they land, because for a bat, landing requires reorienting from head forward, back up, belly down, to head down, toes up.”

While coming into landing, the bats lessen their speed, making it tricky to gather the aerodynamic forces that are produced by pushing against the air, and that help position them for the upside-down landing. However, the bat’s hefty wings enable them to generate enough force to reorient themselves whilst in the air.

“This is similar to the way in which divers twist and turn during a high dive,” said Kenny Breuer, Professor of Engineering, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University.

Swartz claimed that many underestimate the aeronautical abilities of bats, due mainly to the fact that they are nocturnal. She says: “People have many opportunities to observe birds and insects flying, but the bat world is hidden in the night. The more we observe flight behaviour in bate, the more we are impressed.”

Image via Shutterstock.

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