Do bats touch anything during flight?

BBC Wildlife contributor Karen Emslie answers your wild question. 


Jamaican fruit bat flying at night © ivkuzmin/iStock 


Yes. The role of hearing and vision in the flight of bats is well known, but a recent study has shown that touch also plays a part. These nocturnal hunters perform complex mid-air manoeuvres, yet they don’t bump into obstacles nor collide with each other.

A joint team from Columbia and Johns Hopkins Universities has found that an array of sensory receptors in bats’ wings provide them with tactile feedback during flight that, combined with other sensory information, enables them to carry out their aeronautics.

The team believes that neurons in the bats’ brains respond to incoming airflow and touch signals, triggering rapid adjustments in wing position that optimise flight control.

Bat wings have a unique distribution of hair follicles and touch-sensitive receptors, and the spatial pattern of the latter suggests that different parts of the wing send different sensory information to the brain, detecting either changes in wind direction or turbulence.

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