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Jul 08, 2013 12:34 PM EDT

X-Ray Video Explains Bats' Unique Ability to Takeoff and Sustain Flight (VIDEO)


Brown University biologist Dr. Nicolai Konow and a team of researchers have captured high-speed X-ray footage of a bat in flight, the Smithsonian reported.

The footage will help Konow's team understand how bats are able to sustain flight better than any mammal. They began by using high-speed X-ray cameras to capture video of fruit bats lifting themselves off the ground for flight.

They discovered that the creatures have very stretchable bicep and triceps tendons to store and release the energy needed for takeoff.

"Energy is stored in the triceps tendon, which is used to power elbow extension - in essence, elbow extension happens using 'recycled' energy," Konow said in a presentation. "State of knowledge, and our results, indicates that bats are unique among small mammals in stretching their tendons, as small mammal limb tendons are thought to be too thick and stiff to be stretched."

The technology for recording these movements is called X-ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology (XROMM) and it integrates 3-D renderings of bone structure into X-ray video. This allowed the team to get a detailed look at the bat's muscle mechanics during flight.

Konow and his team presented their research Monday at a meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology.

"By combining information about skeletal movement with information about muscle mechanics, we found that the biceps and triceps tendons of small fruit bats are stretched and store energy as the bat launches from the ground and flies vertically."

The team also used a brand new innovative technology called fluoromicrometry, a process where the researcher will inject the specimen's muscles with a chemical marking agent. The chemical agent allowed the team to measure the length of the bat's muscles as they were stretched.

The stretchy tendons - previously believed to be stiff and thick - of the bat and its ability to sustain flight further proves the mammal's uniqueness.

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