Have you ever wished you could soar through the sky like a bird? While most animals are earthbound, some creatures have learned how to “fly” from tree to tree without wings! Gliding animals can sail through the air by stretching out skin flaps or membranes between their limbs. Let’s explore some of the amazing animals that can glide.
The Colugo – Flying Lemur of Southeast Asia
One of the most spectacular gliders is the colugo, the flying lemur. However, the colugo isn’t a lemur or able to fly. It just looks like a lemur and can glide long distances between trees. Colugos live in the rainforests of Southeast Asia and use the loose skin between their limbs to glide from tree to tree. They can glide up to 230 feet through the air!
When a colugo wants to glide, it climbs high up a tree trunk, reaches out, and leaps into the air. As it jumps, it spreads its limbs wide, stretching the skin between them tight. This creates a parachute-like membrane that allows the colugo to sail long distances between trees. Colugos have amazing manoeuvrability in the air and can even turn or change directions mid-glide!
Tiny Sugar Gliders Soar Through Australian Forests
Sugar gliders are tiny, squirrel-sized marsupials that live in Australia and New Guinea. Despite their small size, these little critters can glide up to 150 feet between trees! Sugar gliders have a patagium membrane that stretches from their wrists to their ankles. When they spread their limbs out wide, it forms a gliding surface.
Sugar gliders build their nests high up in the hollows of eucalyptus trees. At night, they climb to the tops of the trees, leap into the air, and glide down to nearby trees to search for gum, nectar, and insects to eat. If a sugar glider wants to change direction mid-air, it can use its bushy tail as a rudder!
Wallace’s Flying Frog Takes to the Skies
Frogs aren’t known for their flying abilities, but Wallace’s flying frog from Southeast Asia has figured out how to glide through the forest canopy. It uses the large webbed feet on its hands and feet as “wings” to help it glide.
When it wants to glide, the flying frog spreads its limbs wide, stretches the webbing between its fingers and toes, and jumps from high branches. It can glide up to 25 feet between trees this way. Its gliding membrane gives it better manoeuvrability than a parachute!
The Greater Glider Silently Sails Through Australian Forests
With its large eyes and soft fur, the greater glider is one of the cutest. It’s also one of the best gliders, able to sail up to 492 feet through Australia’s eucalyptus and acacia forests! Greater gliders have a patagium (gliding membrane) stretching from their elbows to ankles.
To take off, they climb high up a tree trunk, spread their limbs wide, and leap into the air. You can watch them silently soaring through the night sky under a full moon. They steer by moving their heads, tails, and limbs.
Flying Squirrels are Champion Gliders
Flying squirrels can’t fly – they glide using a furry membrane called a patagium that stretches between their wrists and ankles.
When a flying squirrel wants to glide from one tree to another, it climbs up a trunk, jumps and spreads its limbs wide. The loose skin between its wrists and ankles stretches out, forming ‘wings’ that allow it to glide long distances. The longest glide ever recorded was 295 feet! To steer mid-air, flying squirrels move their limbs, tails, heads, and patagium.
Draco Lizards Glide With Style
Draco lizards live in the rainforests of Southeast Asia and India. They can’t fly but are skilled at gliding from tree to tree. Flying dragons have rib extensions covered with skin that stretch out to form gliding wings when they jump into the air. They can glide up to 60 meters between trees!
Before leaping, a flying dragon often climbs up a tree and parachutes down to start its glide. In the air, it spreads its legs wide and fully extends its patagium “wings.” These lizards are great gliders but have little ability to change direction or steer mid-air. Their landing skills need some work, too – they often crash into branches and trunks!
Flying Snakes Glide Through the Trees
Certain species of snakes, like the paradise tree snake, have figured out how to launch themselves through the air from tree to tree in Southeast Asia’s rainforests. Flying snakes stiffen their ribs to flatten their bodies and get maximum lift. When they leap out, they suck in their stomachs to “inflate” their bodies and create a concave, wing-like shape.
These snakes undulate back and forth through the air in an S-shaped motion to generate lift and stability. They can glide nearly 100 feet between trees! Flying snakes can even turn or change direction mid-glide by positioning their heads and bodies. Who needs wings when you can glide like a snake?
Kuhl’s Parachute Gecko Floats Like a Leaf
Found in the rainforests of Southeast Asia, Kuhl’s parachute gecko has a unique gliding ability. It has flaps of skin along its head, body, arms and legs that stretch out to form a parachute shape when it jumps from a tree. This allows it to glide nearly 100 feet between trunks!
The gecko’s membrane skin flaps resemble leaves, camouflaging it in the forest canopy. As it glides down, it uses its flat tail as a rudder to help steer and direct its descent. This gecko’s gliding talents put it among the reptile superstars of sailing through the air.
Flying Fish Really Do Fly Above the Ocean
You may have seen photos of flying fish soaring above the ocean’s surface. How do they do it without wings? Flying fish have large, wing-like pectoral fins that allow them to fly above the water literally. When chased by predators, they build up speed underwater, burst out, spread their large fins, and glide through the air up to 30 feet high!
To generate lift, flying fish wriggle their tail fins vigorously while airborne. Their streamlined bodies and aerodynamic fins help them glide long distances above the water before plunging back under the waves. Some can even change direction mid-flight by using their tails as rudders. It’s an incredible ability that gives flying fish a chance to escape predators.
Japanese Flying Squid Fly Through the Air
Japanese flying squid live in the western Pacific and can actually launch themselves out of the water and fly through the air! These squid have triangular fins that resemble wings. To take off, they shoot a jet of water out from their siphon, rapidly beat their fins, and shoot up out of the sea.
Once airborne, the squid spreads its fins wide and glides in the air for distances up to 50 meters. Its fins generate lift like wings, while its siphon sprays out water to propel it along. Japanese flying squid sometimes fly in groups, creating a fantastic spectacle of gliding molluscs in the sky! Their ability to fly helps them escape predators and may also enable them to migrate long distances across the ocean.