Membrane muscle function in the compliant wings of bats


Unlike flapping birds and insects, bats possess membrane wings that are more similar to many gliding mammals. The vast majority of the wing is composed of a thin compliant skin membrane stretched between the limbs, hand, and body. Membrane wings are of particular interest because they may offer many advantages to micro air vehicles. One critical feature of membrane wings is that they camber passively in response to aerodynamic load, potentially allowing for simplified wing control. However, for maximum membrane wing performance, tuning of the membrane structure to aerodynamic conditions is necessary. Bats possess an array of muscles, the plagiopatagiales proprii, embedded within the wing membrane that could serve to tune membrane stiffness, or may have alternative functions. We recorded the electromyogram from the plagiopatagiales proprii muscles of Artibeus jamaicensis, the Jamaican fruit bat, in flight at two different speeds and found that these muscles were active during downstroke. For both low- and high-speed flight, muscle activity increased between late upstroke and early downstroke and decreased at late downstroke. Thus, the array of plagiopatagiales may provide a mechanism for bats to increase wing stiffness and thereby reduce passive membrane deformation. These muscles also activate in synchrony, presumably as a means to maximize force generation, because each muscle is small and, by estimation, weak. Small differences in activation timing were observed when comparing low- and high-speed flight, which may indicate that bats modulate membrane stiffness differently depending on flight speed.

Bioinspiration & Biomimetics