Wild Gliders: My Column in The Hindu

Wild GLIDERS

AREFA TEHSIN

  • Come fly with me:Helen's Flying Frog.Photo: Reuters
    Come fly with me:Helen’s Flying Frog.Photo: Reuters

Birds fly, we all know that. But did you know that some squirrels, fish, frogs and snakes too can?

True fliers in nature are birds, insects and bats. Humans fly too but with the help of machines like planes and choppers. While insects were the first to evolve flight, bats are the most recent. But there are others in nature who don’t have wings or machines and can still fly. Okay, not fly, but glide. The creatures that stay in rainforest canopies, amphibians, mammals and even fish and squids!

Let’s check out some of the coolest gliding creatures.

Flying squirrel: Found in India as well, flying squirrels have a flight record of 295 feet! They stay on tree canopy and have a fluffy tail and a furry membrane stretching from wrist to ankle, which acts as a parachute. While gliding they look like a t-shirt in flight!

Flying Fish: Around 64 species of fish can fly! They leap out of water and take off in gliding flight. They live in all the oceans of the world and ‘fly’ out of water to evade predators like dolphins and tuna. An average flight is 160 feet and they move their tail up to 70 times per second in flight!

Flying Frog: These frogs are tree-dwelling. These gliders have webbed hands and feet and flaps on arms and legs. They spend most of their lives on trees and descend only to mate and lay eggs. Malabar Flying Frog — a moss green frog with wonder struck eyes — is found in the Western Ghats of India and can jump 115 times its length!

Flying Squid: Like flying fish, the flying squid is believed to fly out of water to avoid predators. They jet water out of their funnel to exit water and some continue jetting water as they fly. They are the only animals with jet-propelled aerial locomotion!

Flying Snake: Oh yes, snakes can fly too. Fancy a snake flying above your head! Of the five species of flying snakes, one is found in India as well. The most accomplished glider of these five is the Paradise Tree Snake. It inches its black body covered in vivid green scales to the edge of a branch, thrusts itself in the air and changes shape in flight by flattening its ribs. In case you think the snake above your head is heading in another direction, don’t be too sure. It can make 90° turn in flight!

There are many other wild gliders using their fins, jets, membranes and webbed hands and feet to glide. As for me, I would any day prefer a magic carpet.

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