Wings are the most obvious adaptation bats have for powered flight and differences in wing morphology are known to correlate with flight behaviour. However, the function(s) of ancillary structures such as the ears and tail, which may also play an important role during flight, are less well understood. Here we constructed a simplified model of a bat body with ears based upon morphological measurements of a brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus) to examine the aerodynamic implications of flying with large ears. The forces and moments produced by the model were measured using a sensitive 6-component force and torque balance during wind tunnel testing. The large ears of the model bat produced positive lift as well as positive drag of the same order of magnitude. At small ears angles (0° to 10°), increasing the angle of the ears resulted in an increase of the lift-to-drag ratio. At higher ear angles (> 10°) separation of the flow occurred which caused a large decrease in the lift-to-drag ratio produced. To maximise the benefit from the ears (i.e., lift-to-drag ratio) our model predicts that a horizontal free flying P. auritus should hold its ears at an approximate angle of 10°. The results of the pitching moment coefficient are inconclusive in determining if the large ears are important as flight control structures. The additional drag produced by the ears has consequences for the foraging behaviour of P. auritus with reductions in its flight speed and foraging range.
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