The aviation skills of salamanders surprised scientists

† the natural sciences


Aircraft or amphibians that can glide, ants and many insects that live in trees can maneuver in the air and avoid falling to the ground. The champion among them, however, seems to be the salamander, which spends its entire life in the crowns of the tallest trees in the world, the evergreen sequoias of California. What scientists saw in the wind tunnel exceeded their wildest expectations

They have exceptional control over the descent process. They can turn, turn, when they’re upside down. They can maintain good posture, moving their tails up and down to perform maneuvers. The level of control is amazing, says PhD student Christian Brown of the University of South Florida. On the amazing abilities of the species salamander Aneides vagrans researchers discovered during wind tunnel research at the University of California, Berkeley.

Salamanders were dropped from a small height into an upward moving column of air. While species that didn’t live on trees just fell helplessly onto the safety net, what did they do? Aneides vagrans It was amazing.
When I saw the footage, what struck me most was the smooth movement of the salamanders in the air. There were no disturbances in their movements, no creaks, they just flowed. In my opinion, this is a testament to how deeply this mechanism is encoded in their motor skills. This shows that falls often have to happen, so there was selection pressure. And it’s not a free fall, they don’t just go down. They are clearly moving horizontally, hoveringsays Professor Robert Dudley, an expert on flying animals.

This behavior is all the more surprising that Aneides vagrans they do not differ in appearance from other salamanders. They only have slightly larger legs. These salamanders have large legs, long legs and adjustable tails. All these elements allow them to maneuver in the air. Until now, however, it was believed that these body parts were only used for climbing. It turns out that they have a double function. They are used for efficient climbing and maneuvering in the airadds Brown.

Salamanders lack obvious anatomical features — such as extra folds of skin — to help them move through the air. They are also not seen as animals with excellent reflexes. Meanwhile, maneuvering in the air requires quick responses to a changing situation and the ability to properly position the body and hit the target. That’s why scientists want to take a closer look not only at the extraordinary abilities of salamanders, but also to see if other animals – which we don’t suspect have similar abilities.

In their experiments, Brown and UC Berkeley student Erik Sathe compared skills a. bums with three other species of salamanders using trees to varying degrees. a. bumswho probably never lands, turned out to be the best flyer. She was characterized by almost equally good skills A. lubugriswhich lives in much shorter trees, such as oaks. Two other species – life on Earth Ensatina eschscholtzii and occasionally climb trees A. flavipunctatus – fell helplessly to the ground.

Brown began his research when he noticed that salamanders he had caught in trees as part of another research project were not afraid to jump out of his hand and fall back onto the branches. He was surprised by this risky behavior. Brown consulted Dudley, a specialist in similar animal behavior, who advised him to conduct wind tunnel tests. There, using a camera that captured 400 frames per second, scientists captured the amazing abilities of the animals. Sometimes they could stay in the air for 10 seconds.

Brown believes that extraordinary abilities were developed as protection against falling to the ground, but salamanders began to use them in their daily lives. Climbing a tree is tiring for these small animals. But going downstairs when there’s nothing to eat upstairs is even more tiring. The salamanders therefore deliberately fall from the branches and fall lower, where there is food.

air salamander flight

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