Meet the Brazilian free-tailed bat, the fastest horizontal flier in the animal kingdom. Researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute have clocked the small mammal speeding through the air at more than 160km/h (99mph), smashing the previous record of 111km/h (69mph) held by the common swift. Key to the bats’ speed are their aerodynamic, projectile-like bodies, light bones and long, narrow wings.
Peregrine falcons hold the overall speed record reaching around 390km/h when diving, but they can only manage 90km/h during horizontal flight.
“Initially, we could hardly believe our data, but they were correct: at times, the female bats, which weigh between 11 and 12 grams, flew at speeds of over 160 kilometres per hour – a new record for horizontal flight,” said researcher Kamran Safi.
The team clocked the record-breaking speed by attaching small radio transmitters to the bats’ backs and then following their flights using a mobile receiver on board a small aircraft. “It was not easy for the pilot to follow the fast-flying animals so that we could localise them accurately and measure their flight path continuously,” said researcher Dina Dechmann. “External factors like landscape and tailwinds cannot explain these results, as they had no impact on the maximum speeds.”