Bats are unique among extant actively flying animals in having very flexible wings, controlled by multi-jointed fingers. This gives the potential for fine-tuned active control to optimize aerodynamic performance throughout the wingbeat and thus a more efficient flight. But how bat wing performance scales with size, morphology and ecology is not yet known. Here, we present time-resolved fluid wake data of two species of bats flying freely across a range of flight speeds using stereoscopic digital particle image velocimetry in a wind tunnel. From these data, we construct an average wake for each bat species and speed combination, which is used to estimate the flight forces throughout the wingbeat and resulting flight performance properties such as lift-to-drag ratio (L/D). The results show that the wake dynamics and flight performance of both bat species are similar, as was expected since both species operate at similar Reynolds numbers (Re) and Strouhal numbers (St). However, maximum L/D is achieved at a significant higher flight speed for the larger, highly mobile and migratory bat species than for the smaller non-migratory species. Although the flight performance of these bats may depend on a range of morphological and ecological factors, the differences in optimal flight speeds between the species could at least partly be explained by differences in their movement ecology.
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