Biology of bat wings may hold lessons for cold-weather work, exercise | 9/10/2019 | Staff
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A new study finds that the muscles in bats' wings operate at a significantly lower temperature than their bodies, especially during flight.

Past research suggests that in most other creatures, including humans, muscles involved in exercise become warmer in response to movement. But the small muscles of a bat's wing are uniquely vulnerable to heat loss during flight, as they're covered by only a thin layer of skin—and warming them up would be inefficient from the standpoint of energy use.

Animals - Time - Brown - University - PhD

"We tend to assume that warm-blooded animals are warm all the time," said Brown University Ph.D. student Andrea Rummel, who authored the study alongside Brown biologists Sharon Swartz and Richard Marsh. "But this research shows that warm-blooded animals have a lot more variation in body temperature than we expected. That has implications for how animals are moving around, including humans."

The findings, published in Biology Letters on Wednesday, Sept. 11, offer context on a previous study by the team, which found that bat wing muscles are much less sensitive to cold temperatures compared to the muscles of a typical mammal. When muscles cool down, they contract and relax more slowly, so they don't work as well. That's true for bats too, but to a much lesser extent. Even as their wing muscles cool during flight, they successfully maintain the rapid wingbeats and the fast, coordinated muscular contractions they require in order to remain airborne.

Bats - High-performance - Locomotion - Muscles - Rummel

"We know that bats are able to support super high-performance locomotion with muscles that are really cold," Rummel said. "The fact that their muscles are cold indicates that there are probably other small mammals and small birds that are also moving around really well with cold muscles—and presumably they all have some muscular adaptation, behavioral adaptation or other physiological adaptation that helps them do that."

Understanding any of these mechanisms could...
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