Body lift, drag and power are relatively higher in large-eared than in small-eared bat species

Jonas Hakansson, Lasse Jakobsen, Anders Hedenström, L. Christoffer Johansson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bats navigate the dark using echolocation. Echolocation is enhanced by external ears, but external ears increase the projected frontal area and reduce the streamlining of the animal. External ears are thus expected to compromise flight efficiency, but research suggests that very large ears may mitigate the cost by producing aerodynamic lift. Here we compare quantitative aerodynamic measures of flight efficiency of two bat species, one large-eared (Plecotus auritus) and one small-eared (Glossophaga soricina), flying freely in a wind tunnel. We find that the body drag of both species is higher than previously assumed and that the large-eared species has a higher body drag coefficient, but also produces relatively more ear/body lift than the small-eared species, in line with prior studies on model bats. The measured aerodynamic power of P. auritus was higher than predicted from the aerodynamic model, while the small-eared species aligned with predictions. The relatively higher power of the large-eared species results in lower optimal flight speeds and our findings support the notion of a trade-off between the acoustic benefits of large external ears and aerodynamic performance. The result of this trade-off would be the ecomorphological correlation in bat flight, with large-eared bats generally adopting slow-flight feeding strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20170455
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number135
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Oct 1

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Evolutionary Biology

Free keywords

  • Aerodynamics
  • Bats
  • Body lift and drag
  • Ears
  • Flight
  • Power


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