Week of July 17, 2022 – July 23, 2022
by Bridget Jones, Environmental Educator
As darkness falls on warm summer evenings, it is common to see bats fluttering in the night sky. A few nights ago, several bats appeared outside my window, and I enjoyed watching them swoop and dive to catch insects. In the near darkness, it was impossible to see anything but their faint silhouettes; however, their uneven style of flight was unmistakable. Have you ever watched a bat flying and wondered why its flight pattern looks so different from a bird’s? The answer can be found by looking at the structure of their wings.
Unlike birds, bats did not evolve feathers to fly. Instead, their wings are made of skin membranes stretched between the bones of their fingers. These fingers are incredibly long and flexible. Like us, bats’ fingers have multiple joints, and this physical feature is one of the secrets to their unique flight. Bats use their fingers to direct their flight path. By making small adjustments in their fingers, bats are able to fold their wing membranes into a multitude of shapes. In contrast, birds have relatively stiff wings because their arm and hand bones are fused together. This gives them more speed during flight, but that comes at the cost of maneuverability. Bats are more nimble, allowing them to change direction quickly and navigate tight spaces.
Bats’ unique flight allows them to play important roles in their ecosystems. Because of their agility, bats are excellent at darting after flying insects. Many common bat species in New York, such as Little Brown Bats, are important controls for agricultural pests and bugs like mosquitoes. In other regions, some bat species pollinate flowers as they feed on nectar. For each of these roles, the power of flight is essential.
These warm summer nights give us the chance to observe and appreciate these animal acrobats. Have you seen bats around your neighborhood recently?