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Brazilian free-tailed bats are the fastest fliers

The new record holders can reach ground speeds of up to 160 kilometers per hour

12:00pm, November 21, 2016
Brazilian free-tailed bats

FLY-BY-NIGHT Brazilian free-tailed bats have bested the world’s fastest birds in a test of flight speed.  

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The new record-holder for fastest flying animal isn’t a bat out of hell. It’s a bat from Brazil, a new study claims. Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) can reach ground speeds of 160 kilometers per hour.

It’s unclear why they need that kind of speed to zoom through the night sky, but Brazilian bats appear to flap their wings in a similar fashion to ultrafast birds, an international group of researchers report November 9 in Royal Society Open Science. A sleek body, narrow wings and a wingspan longer than most other bats’ doesn’t hurt either.

Radio transmitters attached to the backs of seven bats allowed the team, led by evolutionary biologist Gary McCracken of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to track the flight path and speed of the bats after they emerged from a cave in southwestern Texas. All seven reached almost 100 km/hr when flying horizontally; one bat hit about 160 km/hr.

Until now, common swifts held the record of fastest fliers, soaring at up to 112 km/hr, often with help from wind and gravity. The Brazilian bats, however, reached their higher speeds with no assist. Since bat flight is rarely studied, there may be even faster bats out there, the researchers speculate.


G.F. McCracken et al. Airplane tracking documents fastest flight speeds recorded for bats. Royal Society Open Science. Published online November 9, 2016. doi: 10.1098/rsos.160398.  

Further Reading

L. Hamers. Frigate birds fly nonstop for months. Science News Online, June 30, 2016.

S. Milius. How to drink like a bat. Science News. Vol. 188, October 31, 2015, p. 4.

S. Schwartz. Patrolling bats protect corn fields from pests. Science News Online, September 14, 2015.

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