The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

20 February 2006

Bats don't wear short shorts

"Them bats is smart," said David Letterman: "they use radar."

Well, actually, they use a form of sonar called "echolocation," but apparently they also fly by feel: receptors on bats' wings, sensitive to touch, help them maintain their flight paths and detect prey.

Dr. John Zook of Ohio University tested this latter premise:

Zook removed the delicate hairs from bats' wings with a hair removal cream. Then he let them fly. The bats appeared to fly normally when following a straight path, but when they’d try to take a sharp turn, such as at the corner of a room, they would drop or even jump in altitude, sometimes erratically. When the hairs grew back, the bats resumed making turns normally.

"It was obvious they had trouble maintaining elevation on a turn," he said. "Without the hairs, the bats were increasing the curve of their wings too much or not enough."

The bats' flight behavior also changed based on the area of the wing where the hairs were removed. For example, when Zook removed hairs along the trailing edge of the wings and on the membrane between the legs, the bats were able to fly and turn effectively, but they tended to pitch forward because they couldn’t control their in-flight balance.

So if you have a pet bat — perhaps a fruitbat named Eric — you would be doing it a kindness by keeping the Nair away from its wings.

(Courtesy of Finestkind Clinic and Fish Market.)

(Gratuitous disclosure: The pre-AOL QuantumLink service once had a chat room called QFRUITBAT, which was devised by, um, me.)

Posted at 12:15 PM to Almost Yogurt

Quantumlink? Okay, now I feel old.

Posted by: Joe Goodwin at 12:46 PM on 20 February 2006

Oh, boy.

Posted by: Sam Beckett at 8:17 AM on 21 February 2006