Bats weighty wings allow them to land upside down

Bats are capable of doing something that even the most advanced aircrafts of the modern era cannot do: landing on a ceiling upside down. To date, it was not clear what gives bats this incredible ability; however, now scientists have found how these winged mammals land upside down.

During a recent study, researchers used high-speed cameras for observing bats in a unique flight enclosure. They found that these flying mammals land upside down using the extra weight of their webbed wings. For those who don’t know: bats come with wings that are hefty for the size of their body compared to the wings of insects and birds.

Bats land upside down as they prefer to roost that way beneath tree limbs, on cave ceilings, and ceilings of long-abandoned houses.


During the said study, researchers at the Brown University observed two different species of bats, dog-faced fruit bats, and Seba’s short-tailed bats. They used three synchronized video cameras to capture images at a speed of 1,000 frames per second. This allowed them to track the motion of bats and study the distribution of weight in their wings and body.

The researchers discovered that bats are capable of shifting its center of mass for performing a midair flip and landing upside down on a plane by flapping both their wings while folding one slightly towards their body.

Sharon Swartz, an engineering and biology professor at the Brown University, said that all flying animals maneuver continuously as they need to negotiate a 3D environment. She stated that bats tend to use this particular maneuver whenever they land as for them landing means reorienting from belly down, back up, head forward, to toes up, head down.

When bats approach a touchdown spot, they don’t fly very quickly. This makes it extremely difficult for them to acquire the kind of aerodynamic forces they could have mustered by pushing against air. However, still they manage to position themselves for a perfect upside-down landing. The hefty wings of bats allow them to generate inertial forces for reorienting their body midair.

Kenny Breuer, another Brown professor, involved in the study, said that the flipping in the air can be compared to the movement divers make to twist in the air when performing a high dive. Breuer teaches evolutionary biology, ecology and engineering at the University.

The entire study has been published in the journal PLOS Biology on November 16.