Many birds use a flight mode called undulating or flap-gliding flight, where they alternate between flapping and gliding phases, while only a few bats make use of such a flight mode. Among birds, flap-gliding is commonly used by medium to large species, where it is regarded to have a lower energetic cost than continuously flapping flight. Here, we introduce a novel model for estimating the energetic flight economy of flap-gliding animals, by determining the lift-to-drag ratio for flap-gliding based on empirical lift-to-drag ratio estimates for continuous flapping flight and for continuous gliding flight, respectively. We apply the model to flight performance data of the common swift (Apus apus) and of the lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae). The common swift is a typical flap-glider while-to the best of our knowledge-the lesser long-nosed bat does not use flap-gliding. The results show that, according to the model, the flap-gliding common swift saves up to 15% energy compared to a continuous flapping swift, and that this is primarily due to the exceptionally high lift-to-drag ratio in gliding flight relative to that in flapping flight for common swifts. The lesser long-nosed bat, on the other hand, seems not to be able to reduce energetic costs by flap-gliding. The difference in relative costs of flap-gliding flight between the common swift and the lesser long-nosed bat can be explained by differences in morphology, flight style and wake dynamics. The model presented here proves to be a valuable tool for estimating energetic flight economy in flap-gliding animals. The results show that flap-gliding flight that is naturally used by common swifts is indeed the most economic one of the two flight modes, while this is not the case for the non-flap-gliding lesser long-nosed bat.
Subject classification (UKÄ)
- Biological Sciences