Friday, March 20, 2009

Some of the Blind Watchmaker's Best Work

Bats are endlessly amazing. Biologist Carl Zimmer:

Bats evolved about 50 million years ago from squirrel-like ancestors. They probably made their first forays into the air as gliders. Like living gliders, they used flaps of skin to increase their surface area, letting them glide further. Their hands evolved long spindly fingers that were joined by membranes. Some early bat fossils suggest that they may have shifted from gliding to alternating between gliding and bursts of fluttering. Eventually bats evolved sustained powered flight.
It can be easy to forget that bats are much more like mice than birds, so rather than having bird-like wings, bats have mouse-like hands -- hands not so unlike our own, really -- that have elongated and been joined with fleshy webbing, which gives them much tighter control over their wings than birds have:
... bat flight is just too complex for simple labels, like upstroke and downstroke. The shoulder of a bat starts rotating upwards before the wrist, which move up before the fingers. The fingers on each hand don’t move in sync with each other. A joint on the left wing is often out of sync with the corresponding joint on the right wing.
The following is just one of the videos of bats in motion at The Loom. Fantastic!

Bat on flower from Carl Zimmer on Vimeo.

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