Mechanical properties of bat wing membrane skin

Authors

  • S. M. Swartz,

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    1. Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
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  • M. S. Groves,

    1. Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
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  • H. D. Kim,

    1. Division of Engineering, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA (SMS, HDK, WRW) Orthopedic Biomechanics Laboratory, Rhode Island Hosptial, Providence, Ri, USA (HDK, WRW)
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  • W. R. Walsh

    1. Division of Engineering, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA (SMS, HDK, WRW) Orthopedic Biomechanics Laboratory, Rhode Island Hosptial, Providence, Ri, USA (HDK, WRW)
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    • Centre for Biomedical Engineering, University of New South Wales, Syndney, Australia


Abstract

The skin of the bat wing in functionally unique among mammals: it serves as a major locomotor organ in addition to its protective and regulatory functions. We used tensile testing to investigate the mechanical capabilities of wing membrane skin, and compared stiffness, strength, load at failure, and energy absorption among specific wing regions and among a variety of bat taxa. We related these characteristics to the highly architectural fibrous supporting network of the wing membrane. We found that all material properties showed a strong anisotropy. In particular, wing membrane skin shows maximum stiffness and stregth parallel to the wing skeleton, and greatest extensibility parallel to the wing's trailing edge. We also found significant variation among wing regions. The uropatagium (tail membrane) supported the greatest load at failure, and the plagiopatagium (proximal wing membrane between laterl body wall and hand skeleton) is the weakest and most extensible part of the wing. We believe that the increased load bearing ability of the uropatagium relats to its key role in capture of insect prey, and that the great extensibility of the plagiopatagium promotes development of camber near the wing's centre of lift. In interspecific comparisons, energy absorpion and load to failure were greatest in Artibeus jamaicensis, the largest bat in our sample and the species with the highest wing loading, suggesting that wing loading may play a role in dictating the fuctional design of wing membranes.

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