When thinking about aerial masters, the mind automatically goes to the birds. By far the largest and most common flyer we see in our daily lives.However, if we think about it, bats and insects are also well known. However, most of these species are capable of powered flight. What about the creatures that aren't? Gliding is considered something completely separate from the ability to fly, and there are some strange creatures that have the ability to glide. In this week's post, we will look at a subset of the gliders. We will look at those that spend part of the majority of their lives in water. Let's start with the most common.
Image by Mike Prince, used with permission
There are over 50 living species of flying fish, most of which are smaller than 30 cm (12 in) in length. They have multiple adaptations that help them take to the sky, which regular fish do not have. For starters, they have a much more robust skeleton, which creates a more rigid body to fly through the air. The more robust skeleton also allows for more muscles so that the massive pectoral fins can hold the weight of the body as the animal glides. Some fish can spend up to 45 seconds in the air, covering distances of 400 m (1,300 ft). They can also glide up to 6 m (20 ft) above the water surface.
Squids are a type of mollusc, related albeit distantly to snails and slugs, and yet they, too, can fly. There are multiple species of flying squid, all belonging to the family Ommastrephidae, and they range in size from 10 cm (3.5 in) long to about 1.5 m (4.9 ft). The flying squid is an interesting animal because, unlike other gliding animals, the squid’s fins provide only a small amount of lift. The majority of the squid's lift comes from jet propulsion as the squid pushes water out of their funnel. The expulsion of water through their funnel even provides lift while in the air. They have been known to glide for over 30 m (100 ft) at one time.
Image by Shijan Kaakkara, used with permission
The ability to glide has developed in two separate families of frogs. The Rhacophoridae are found in sub-Saharan Africa as well as large portions of Asia and the Philippine and Indonesian island chains. The Hylidae family of frogs is found in Europe and the Americas, with the gliding species being found in the Americas. The frogs have extremely enlarged feet, and the webbing between the toes has increased to allow for gliding. This is similar to the wings of a bat, except the bats are way more extensive and have the ability to power their flight, whereas some of the frogs have the ability to glide. However, some of the species are incredible aerial acrobats in their own right and are able to manoeuvre and turn in mid-glide.
Image by Toniher, used with permission
Admittedly, this entry into this list is a bit more controversial. There are reports that it doesn’t glide and there are reports that it can. The fish has the ability to jump out of the water and move several times its body length at a time, which led people to believe it could glide. The fish also has oversized pectoral fins, which helped people believe that it could glide. However, when the fish jumps out of the water, they flap their pectoral fins, which would change the efficiency of the glide. Strangely enough, this is where the fish gets its name, as the flapping looks like a butterfly.
What did you think of the list? Let us know on the contact page if we missed anything.