Strange gliders

Strange gliders

Two weeks ago, we explored the world of waterlogged gliders (insert Link), looking at flying fish, squid, and even frogs. This week, let's take a look at the other gliders that are less talked about. We have snakes, ants, and even spiders that glide, but the common ones that a lot of people know about are lizards and squirrels, or rodents. We will look at the mammals in a subsequent post as there is a lot to say about them. Instead, let's start this discussion with the Spiders. 


Flying Spider

Image by Sarah Crews

One way spiders move through the air is mainly used by the young of some species. They basically produce a long line of silk that is caught by the wind, thereby acting as a parachute, pulling the spiders along. These are not the spiders we are talking about. Instead, we are talking about a group of spiders called Selenops. There are 132 species of Selenops, and only some of them are able to turn and glide. Since they are arboreal or tree-dwelling spiders, it is thought they have this ability in case they get knocked off the tree.



Flying Lizard
Image by Rushenb

One of the more commonly known groups in which some species are capable of gliding is the lizards. There are numerous ways gliding is achieved in lizards. Let's start with one of the cutest. There are numerous species of gecko that can glide. They do this by having flaps of skin or protrusions on the outside of their toes, legs, torso, tails, and even heads that allow them to glide to safety. They can glide up to 60 m (200 ft), much like the other species of lizards that can glide. The Draco lizards look more like lizards in general. They don't have webbing or flaps of skin on their toes; instead, they have developed flattened ribs that they can swing into position when they jump. These flattened ribs then form a half circle on either side of the lizard, allowing it to also glide up to 30 m (200 ft). 


Flying Ant

Image by Graham Wise

Possibly more strange than the spiders and lizards is the fact that there are gliding ants. It seems the point is that if the ants fall from their tree, as all the species are arboreal or tree-dwelling, they use their flattened heads, hind legs, and bodies to help guide them. The ant will generally free fall about 3 m (10 ft) before it will guide itself towards the tree trunk of its choice. It is believed that during this free-fall, the ant is trying to achieve the optimum gliding velocity, which usually means slowing down. The reason this is the current hypothesis is that, generally, the larger ants fall further than the smaller ants, which would account for the larger ants' having to slow themselves down more. 


Flying Snake

Image by Gihan Jayaweera

Some people would definitely think this is the stuff nightmares are made of, but yes, there are even flying (actually gliding) snakes. There are five species found in the dense jungle areas of Southeast Asia. They glide by opening up their ribs, which makes their body concave, almost like a parachute, and then, by "slithering" through the air, they are able to glide for distances up to 100 m (330 ft). 

What are your favourite gliders? 

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