Pulmonary design in a microchiropteran bat (Pipistrellus subflavus) during hibernation

Respir Physiol. 1985 Mar;59(3):301-12. doi: 10.1016/0034-5687(85)90135-5.


The Eastern pipistrelle (Pipistrellus subflavus) is typical of exceptionally small bats capable of a 30-fold range in aerobic metabolism as they arouse from hypothermia and sustain foraging flight. This report describes their basic lung structure and the extent to which this organ is protected from protein depletion during hibernation. Bats were collected at the beginning (Fall), middle (Winter), and end (Spring) of hibernation from a permanent overwintering cave, and analyzed within several days of capture. Regardless of whether bats were examined in the Fall (average body weight = 6.22 g) or in the Spring (4.58 g) no significant differences existed for total lung volume (237 microliter), alveolar surface area (338 cm2), harmonic mean septal thickness, tau ht (0.221 micron), or membrane diffusing capacity (4.13 microliter O2/sec/mbar). These parameters exceed predictions based on body weights for either season, and resemble published data for another highly active mammalian group, the insectivorous shrews. Both tau ht and the minimal septal thickness of 0.083 micron approach the anatomical limits for thinning of alveolar septa without loss of epithelial continuity. Although both the heart and lungs lost 13% of their fresh weights during hibernation, compared to 25% for the liver, the lung contents of DNA (0.14 mg) and blood-free protein (7.38 mg) were not altered significantly. These small bats possess lungs which are well suited for the high aerobic cost of flight. Those lungs are resistant to hibernation-induced proteolysis, and also resistant to the deterioration of alveolar membranes which occurs in nonhibernators subjected to starvation-induced weight losses of similar magnitude.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Water / metabolism
  • Chiroptera / anatomy & histology*
  • Chiroptera / physiology
  • Hibernation*
  • Lung / anatomy & histology*
  • Lung / metabolism
  • Lung / physiology
  • Lung / ultrastructure
  • Male
  • Organ Size