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BLANE KLEMEK OUTDOORS: Flying and gliding creatures about in the great outdoors

Who among us has never gazed skyward at a flying bird and wished just once we could fly, too? Though flight is often associated with birds alone, many other creatures can fly, too. In the insect world there are near countless species that fly and fly well.

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Dragonflies, believed to be the most aerially accomplished of all insects, if not all flying organisms, can be compared to hummingbirds for their amazing maneuverability.
Courtesy / Pixabay
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Who among us has never gazed skyward at a flying bird and wished just once we could fly, too? Though flight is often associated with birds alone, many other creatures can fly, too. In the insect world there are near countless species that fly and fly well.

From bulky beetles and bumblebees to delicate damselflies and dragonflies, there are a host of wildlife species worldwide that have wings and can fly.

Dragonflies, believed to be the most aerially accomplished of all insects, if not all flying organisms, can be compared to hummingbirds for their amazing maneuverability.

However, where hummingbirds have only one pair of wings, dragonflies have two pairs of wings that work independently of each other. A dragonfly can fly backward, change directions instantly, stop in mid-air, and can accelerate to maximum speed in a split second.

Fish? Believe it or not, there are species of fish that can "fly." Flying fish, which is their common name, have evolved spectacularly long pectoral fins while some species also have oversized pelvic fins.

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As flying fish rapidly swim near the ocean's surface, they can escape predators by launching themselves into the air and gliding several yards before entering the water again.

How about reptiles and amphibians? Even some of these species have evolved remarkable ways to become airborne. None of these specialized species, however, actually have wings, but some non-Minnesota tree frogs have evolved extra large feet.

When their toes are spread, these species of tree frogs inhabiting tropical rainforests can sail through the air and land on nearby trees or ponds. Indeed, their webbed toes serve as miniature parachutes!

There is also a species of snake from Asia that can flatten its body to such a degree that it, too, can sail from the height of a tree and, like a ribbon, squirm through the air to reach nearby limbs.

Additionally, some species of geckos and other Asian lizards, including a species of lizard from Africa, have evolved the ability to glide through the air when leaping from various perches.

One species of gliding gecko, for example, that possesses flaps of skin along their limbs, torso, head, and tail, can sail through the air without any difficulty. When aloft, these skinfolds catch the air, enabling them to glide with ease.

Another species of lizard glides on folds of skin similar to that of flying squirrels, but, unlike flying squirrels, the “gliding membrane” is attached to extended ribs rather than their legs such as what is common for flying squirrels. These species of gliding lizards can glide as far as 200 feet while losing only 30 or so feet in height.

Some species of mammals have mastered the sky, too; both of which are denizens of the dark. Two species of squirrels, the northern flying squirrel and the southern flying squirrel, are accomplished gliders.

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These squirrels launch themselves from high in a tree and spread their legs to reveal the connecting folds of skin and glide like a kite or paper airplane. The small and attractive, bug-eyed squirrels can glide through the air with ease, covering astonishing distances.

Other species of mammals that have obtained the ability to glide include species of Australian marsupials. Flying phalangers and greater gliders are among those mammals that can glide with the aid of folds of skin attached to their limbs.

There are also species of opossums and lemurs that can glide as well. And yet, gliding aside, bona fide mammalian flight occurs in only one group of mammals — bats.

These acrobatic nocturnal creatures dart through the nighttime sky throughout much of the world as they chase moths and other flying insects for food. Some 1,400 species of bats exist globally.

Ranging in size from the bumblebee bat (also called Kitti’s hog-nosed bat), which weighs less than a penny, to the largest bat in the world, the large flying fox, which has a wingspan of six feet and weighs over two pounds.

The ability to fly and glide has evolved in many creatures in the animal kingdom (as well as us with our flying machines), but only some insects, most birds, and all bats have truly mastered flight.

As such, there are probably more creatures flying and gliding than we might have known or thought about, as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

Blane Klemek is a Minnesota DNR wildlife manager. He can be reached at bklemek@yahoo.com.

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Related Topics: BLANE KLEMEKNORTHLAND OUTDOORSOUTDOORS RECREATION
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