Sporting upsets are all the rage in 2016, and now it seems even the animal kingdom has an underdog champion, with a highly unexpected creature having just entered the record books as the world’s fastest flyer: the Brazilian free-tailed bat.
In a new study in the journal Royal Society Open Science, researchers explain that until now, bats had been considered slower fliers than birds, thanks to the fact that the morphology of their wings tends to generate more drag, while their large ears also slow them down as they soar through the air.
However, after measuring the flight speeds of seven Brazilian free-tailed bats over the course of a week, the team found that they are capable of short bursts of extremely rapid horizontal flight, reaching a maximum speed of 160.2 kilometers per hour (99.5 miles per hour). Not only is this velocity unmatched by any other species of bat, but it also eclipses the highest horizontal flight speed ever recorded in birds – 112 kilometers per hour (70 miles per hour) set by the common swift.
To collect their data, the team attached small radio transmitters to the bats’ backs, and tracked the signals emitted by these devices using receptors on aircraft that followed the mammals on their nightly travels.
According to the researchers, the bats were able to achieve these breakneck speeds by “flap-gliding”, whereby they increase the intervals between each flap of their wings and simply coast through the air.
The team were somewhat surprised with their discovery, and certainly didn’t expect to find a bat to be the world’s top airborne sprinter. In a statement, study co-author Kamran Safi explained that “we could hardly believe our data, but they were correct: at times, the female bats, which weigh between 11 and 12 grams, flew at speeds of over 160 kilometres per hour – a new record for horizontal flight.”