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Tiny bat muscles shed light on aerodynamics

7:11pm GMT - 00:31

Tiny hair-thin muscles in the skin of batwings give the creatures unprecedented control during flight, according to researchers in the United States. The scientists hope to improve the aerodynamics of planes and drones by figuring out how these muscles work and replicate their design.

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STORY: Bats have a tiny network of muscles in the skin of their wings that enables them to control the stiffness and curvature of their wings when they fly, according to new research published by scientists at Brown University. The study suggests that the shape of a membrane wing may actually begin as flat, yet as a bat takes flight it builds this musculature to support its aerodynamic load. While researchers have been aware of the tiny muscles, called plagiopatagiales, they haven't pinpointed their function during flight. After studying bat flight in the lab, the scientists concluded that the plagiopatagiales has a distinct patter during flight: the muscles tense on the down stroke and relax on the upstroke. Furthermore, the researchers concluded that the muscles act in unison - not individually - and that flight speed impacted how and when they tensed their muscles. The biologists are also working with a team of engineers who are using the study to better understand aerodynamics. A team of engineering researchers at the university has built a robotic batwing that incorporates the observations made by the scientists, with the hopes of recreating the fine-tuning capabilities that these muscles give a bat when it's in flight.

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Tiny bat muscles shed light on aerodynamics

7:11pm GMT - 00:31

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