Functional role of sensory hairs on the bat wing

Dr. Susanne Sterbing

Bats have microscopically small, sensory hairs on theirs wing membranes. We have previously shown them to be involved in sensing directional air flow for improved flight maneuverability (Sterbing–D'Angelo et al 2011). Also, their mechanical deflection properties have been measured using laser scanning vibrometry. Currently, my main interest is to develop a complete understanding of these sensors' function through integrated measurements of airflow around the bat wing, the neuroanatomy of their innervations and pathways to the central nervous system, as well as the underlying neural code during airflow stimulation. Furthermore, I'm collaborating on the biomimetic implementation of the sensory and control principles of bat flight for robotic platforms to study and augment multisensory aspects of orientation and navigation in artificial autonomous systems.

Bat wing hair (left), neuroanatomy of their receptor cells (middle), biomimetic version (right)

Selected Publications


S. J. Sterbing and C. F. Moss, Comparative analysis of the distribution and morphology of tactile hairs on the wing membrane of four bat species. Journal of Mammalogy, DOI:10.1093, November 2017, LINK.

Sterbing–D'Angelo, S.J., Liu, H., Yu, M. and Moss, C.F., 2016. Morphology and deflection properties of bat wing sensory hairs: scanning electron microscopy, laser scanning vibrometry, and mechanics model. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, 11(5), p.056008.

Sterbing–D'Angelo, S.J., Chadha, M., Marshall, K.L. and Moss, C.F., 2016. Functional role of airflow sensing hairs on the bat wing. Journal of Neurophysiology, pp.jn - 00261.

Marshall, K. L., Chadha, M., Sterbing–D'Angelo, S. J., Moss, C. F., & Lumpkin, E. A. (2015). Somatosensory Substrates of Flight Control in Bats. Cell Reports 11: 851–858.

Sterbing–D'Angelo, S.J., Moss, C.F. (2014) Air flow sensing in bats. In: “ Flow Sensing in Air and Water - Behavioral, Neural and Engineering Principles of Operation”. (Bleckmann, H., Mogdans, J., Coombs, S.L.,eds.) Springer, New York, Heidelberg, Pp. 197–213.

Sterbing–D'Angelo, S.J., Chadha, M., Chiu, C., Falk, B., Xian, W., Barcelo, J., Zook, J.M., Moss, C.F. (2011) Bat wing sensors support flight control. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci.108: 11291–96.

Chadha, M., Moss, C.F., Sterbing–D'Angelo, S.J. (2010) Organization of the primary somato-sensory cortex and wing representation in the Big Brown Bat, Eptesicus fuscus. J. Comp. Physiol. A. 197: 89–96.


Sterbing–D'Angelo, S.J. (2015) Wired for flight: the role of tactile sensing for flight control in bats. Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Basic Research Forum, Arlington VA, 2015, invited.

Sterbing–D'Angelo S.J., Chadha M, Moss CF (2015) Functional role of tactile hairs on the bat wing. In: Mammalian Circuits Underlying Somatosensation. Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Janelia Research Campus.

Marshall, K. L., Chadha, M., DeSouza L.A., Sterbing–D'Angelo, S. J., Moss, C. F., & Lumpkin, E. A. (2014) Bats have evolved unique sensorimotor circuitry to support mammalian flight. Society for Neuroscience, Annual Meeting.

Selected news articles about my research: "Learning To Fly: Why Planes and Drones Could Take Their Next Cue From Bats" "Wing hairs help to keep bats in the air"


2018 Accelerator/Innovator Grant - David M. Rubenstein Fund for Hearing Research
2017 Accelerator/Innovator Grant - David M. Rubenstein Fund for Hearing Research
2017 IDIES Seed Funding Award
2016 Johns Hopkins Discovery Award
2006 ASEE Summer Faculty Fellowship Award
AFOSR BAA Grant FA95501210109 (2012-17) “Multisensory Integration for Flight Control”
AFOSR/AFRL DURIP Grant FA9550-15-1-0412 (2015)
AFOSR/AFRL DURIP Grant FA9550-10-1-0303 (2010)
AFOSR Center of Excellence grant “Nature-Inspired Flight Technologies and Ideas”

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