Thermoregulation During Flight: Body Temperature and Sensible Heat Transfer in Free-Ranging Brazilian Free-Tailed Bats (Tadarida Brasiliensis)

Physiol Biochem Zool. Nov-Dec 2010;83(6):885-97. doi: 10.1086/657253. Epub 2010 Oct 29.


Bat wings are important for thermoregulation, but their role in heat balance during flight is largely unknown. More than 80% of the energy consumed during flight generates heat as a by-product, and thus it is expected that bat wings should dissipate large amounts of heat to prevent hyperthermia. We measured rectal (T(r)) and surface (T(s)) temperatures of Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) as they emerged from and returned to their daytime roosts and calculated sensible heat transfer for different body regions (head, body, wings, and tail membrane). Bats' T(r) decreased from 36.8°C during emergence flights to 34.4°C during returns, and T(s) scaled positively with ambient temperature (T(a)). Total radiative heat loss from bats was significantly greater for a radiative sink to the night sky than for a sink with temperature equal to T(a). We found that free-ranging Brazilian free-tailed bats, on average, do not dissipate heat from their wings by convection but instead dissipate radiative heat (L) to the cloudless night sky during flight ([Formula: see text] W). However, within the range of T(a) measured in this study, T. brasiliensis experienced net heat loss between evening emergence and return flights. Regional hypothermia reduces heat loss from wings that are exposed to potentially high convective fluxes. Additional research is needed to establish the role of wings in evaporative cooling during flight in bats.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Temperature / physiology
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Chiroptera / anatomy & histology
  • Chiroptera / physiology*
  • Convection
  • Female
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*
  • Male
  • Texas
  • Wings, Animal / anatomy & histology
  • Wings, Animal / physiology