Big Brown Bat

Associated Smithsonian Expert: Darrin P. Lunde, M.A.

Darrin Lunde on an expedition to the Bandalla Hills of South Sudan in the summer of 2013

Courtesy of Oliver Bench

Darrin Lunde is Collections Manager in the Division of Mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The Mammal Collection is the largest collection of its kind in the world. Darrin started his career by building his own natural history museum when he was just ten years old, and by the time he went to college, he had mastered specimen preservation. After graduating from Cornell University, Darrin was hired by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he stayed for twenty years joining field expeditions to the remote corners of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. He has discovered dozens of new species and shed light on hundreds of other lesser known mammals. Darrin earned a Master of Arts from the City University of New York and much of his interest in museums stems from having grown up in "nature deprived" New York City. To Darrin, museum collections are an important link to nature, and he is driven by the thought that in another century museums may be our only connection to the wild animals we take for granted today. At the Smithsonian, Darrin continues a program of active field work with his goal being to illuminate the rich diversity of mammals with which we still share the world.

Meet our associated expert

This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.

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The gambian slit-faced bat (Nycteris gambiensis) uses its huge ears to detect of sounds it emits
Courtesy of Jakob Fahr, via, CC-BY-NC

About Microbats (Suborder Microchiroptera): Senses

Microbats are the group of bats known for their use of echolocation. Their nocturnal habitats coupled with poor night-time vision make echolocation their main sensory tool for navigating and hunting. Echo-locating bats emit high-frequency sounds from their voice box (larynx) and listen to the returning echoes. They can detect an object as small as 1 millimeter (0.5 inches). However, echolocation for hunting has a downside. Most of the sounds emitted by bats are too high-frequency for humans to hear. But other animals, such as some moths, crickets, and beetles, have developed bat-detecting ears. Whether on their legs, head, or abdomen, bat-detecting ears allow the prey to hear the bat coming from as far away as 40 meters (130 feet). Given that echo-locating bats cannot detect moths until they are within about 5 meters (16.5 feet), the prey may be able to escape before the bat finds it.

Perching Schlieffen's twilight bat (Nycticeius schlieffeni) showing wing membranes
Courtesy of Natalie Weber,, CC-BY-NC

About Bats (Order Chiroptera): Locomotion

Bats are the only mammals that truly fly. While some other mammals, such as flying squirrels, are able to glide, bats alone use flapping wings to power their flight. Their wings are formed from modified front legs, with a membrane connecting their fingers together but leaving the thumb free. Extra-long hand and finger bones give them a large wingspan. Thin, lightweight bones keep their body weight low. Bats flap their wings using muscles in their chests and backs, as well as extra muscles in the wing membrane. The rear ends of bats are also modified for flight. The wing membrane connects to the hind legs, and sometimes even to the tail, giving the bat more surface area for flying. Strong toes, some with tendons that can lock into a rigid position, allow bats to hang upside down. Suspended from sharp claws, they can quickly take flight.