Last updated on February 4th, 2022
Animals that glide are amazing creatures. They can move effortlessly across water, land, snow, ice, grass, sand, mud, etc.
Birds, bats, and insects aren’t the only aerial species on earth as there are a lot of reptiles, amphibians, and even aquatic animals that can locomote through the air – either by gliding or by flight.
Do you know that there are also several species of flying fish that have great gliding abilities?
Animals that can glide:
- Flying Squirrels
- Flying Fish
- Wallace’s Flying Frog
- Feather-tailed Glider
- Greater Glider
- Flying Phalanger
- Draco Lizards
- Gliding Snakes
Both flight and gliding abilities have undergone evolutionary changes numerous times across different animal species.
Gliding has evolved in the rainforest animal species, especially in the Asian regions, where there are tall, widely-spaced trees.
This locomotion ability has developed to help canopy animals in traveling from one tree to another.
The various amphibians, reptiles, and aquatic animals that have adapted this special gliding mechanism allow them to escape the attacks of predators.
However, there is a slight difference between the abilities to fly and glide. Unlike flight, gliding animals, also known as volant animals, are unable to fly on their own.
There is a theory stating that flying has evolved gradually from gliding abilities.
Some theorists and scholars believed in the arboreal model of evolution and it may be the reason why birds, bats, and insects can fly today.
The arboreal model states that the tree-dwelling creatures, who could glide may have started flapping their gliding structures to produce greater thrust.
Here’s a list of all the animals that can glide in the air.
1. Flying Squirrels
There are 14 genera and 43 species included within the group of flying squirrels. These are nocturnal mammals found in various regions across the world, covering temperate, tropical, and Arctic habitats.
Flying squirrels have a cartilage wrist spur that makes it seem as though they have an extra finger.
When the creature decides to move from one tree to another that’s not within the jumping distance, it extends its skin flaps.
As a result, the patagium is opened out and stretched from the wrist to the ankle while the smaller flap of skin from their ankle to their tails is spread out.
This allows the flying squirrel to glide to the next tree in an eagle-like manner.
The animal’s tail remains fluffed out in the form of a parachute during such a flight and when it’s time to land, they use their tails for balance.
Furthermore, the creature lands on the next tree by gripping the branches with its claws while surveying the area to ensure no predators followed their flight.
Colugos are arboreal mammals that rely on gliding for locomotion rather than flying.
These animals are native to Southeast Asia and in the southern region of the Philippines. Colugos are sometimes referred to as flying lemurs.
The fur-covered membrane of colugos allows them to travel distances of up to 300 feet.
These nocturnal animals are normally seen hanging upside down in between their meals.
Colugos belong to two extant species which entails the Sunda flying lemur and the Phillippine flying lemur.
These animals can glide across distances of up to 70 meters while maintaining an elevated position throughout the glide.
The colugo has uniquely shaped teeth that display comb-like features which are used for grooming and feeding.
3. Flying Fish
The flying fish species are ray-finned animals having modified pectoral fins.
Although they’re named flying fish, these creatures can’t enjoy a powered flight. What they do is propel themselves up above the water at a speed of over 35 miles per hour.
There are over 60 flying fish species belonging to the Exocoetidae family. These species can leap out of the water and rise well above the ground by gliding.
Gliding enables flying fish species to escape the attacks of underwater predators.
Some flying fish species, including the freshwater hatchet fish and cypselurus, can beat their pectoral fins like wings while jumping out of water.
This helps them to gain a good lift above the water level.
Bats, as we all know, are the most common flying mammals that we see almost every day in some parts of the world.
They belong to the order Chiroptera which means “hand-foot winged”. The name comes from the two main features: wings and hands/feet.
Bats are probably the only mammals that have adapted true flying mechanisms.
Bats can flap their wings using their hands instead of spreading out their entire forelimbs, whereas other bird species have to flap their forelimbs to remain in flight.
Bats have entirely different wing structures than birds. A thin membrane, known as patagium, also covers the digits.
These small furry creatures live mostly in caves and hollow trees.
Do you know that around 1,240 bat species are representing around 20% of all the mammalian species across the globe?
5. Wallace’s Flying Frog
Wallace’s flying frogs are found in the dense tropical regions of Southeast Asia and are capable of gliding from one tree to the next.
These creatures have powerful hind legs that help them to raise their lightweight bodies from a high tree branch into the air.
Wallace’s flying frogs have large functional webbed feet that help them to glide up to 50 feet.
Furthermore, the animal possesses strong suction pads that allow it to have a powerful grip during landing.
The flying frog species have enlarged toes membranes that act as wings or parachutes when the limbs are spread out after a leap.
Gliding abilities have developed at least twice among the tree frog families namely Hylidae and Rhacophoridae.
Some species are even able to do some fascinating aerial maneuvers, including banked turns.
6. Feather-tailed Glider
This animal belongs to the gliding family of marsupials called Acrobatidae and is found in certain regions in Australia, including Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia.
A feather-tailed glider looks like a small mouse and is easily distinguishable from other marsupials.
As the name suggests, the animal has a unique feather-like tail, which is fringed with long and stiff hairs. These hairs play the role of a rudder when the animal is in flight.
The feather-tailed glider also possesses a skin flap that extends from the elbows to the knees.
This membrane enables the creature to glide over distances of 20 m from tree to tree.
The glider’s large serrated toe pads also help it to cling to smooth surfaces without slipping off.
Feathertail gliders feed on nectar, pollen, and insects.
7. Greater Glider
This is a nocturnal Australian marsupial and solitary herbivore that feeds mainly on Eucalyptus leaves.
They’re normally seen in Queenland’s eucalypt forests. The greater glider is found in both the grey-to-white form and the sooty brown form.
There are many species of ringtail possums in the Pseudocheiridae family, but the greater glider is the largest.
Greater gliders were previously classified as one of the species of flying phalangers. However, they have a separate classification now.
These animals also have membranous skin flap extensions, which enables them to glide in between trees.
Moreover, the skin extensions in greater gliders extend from their ankles to the elbows, unlike the flying phalangers, whose skin extensions begin from the ankles to the wrists.
Sifaka is a lemur belonging to the genus Propithecus from the Indriidae family.
The animal is so named by the local Malagasy inhabitants as it has a unique call that’s heard echoing through the forests of Madagascar.
The skin flaps extend as they jump from branch to branch which appears to function with gliding capabilities.
These primates also possess small membranes under their arms that help to give a thrust or a lift when they try to glide.
However, these types of lemurs have limited gliding capabilities but their long legs make up for this because they can propel them up to 35 ft in the air.
9. Flying Phalanger
These species are often confused with flying squirrels since the two have similar biological mechanisms.
Flying phalangers can cover distances of more than 140 feet by jumping and gliding in between trees using their spread limbs.
This animal is native to a small region in southeastern Australia, covering areas like Queensland and New South Wales.
Many species of flying phalangers, such as sugar gliders, have evolved their furry membranes like marsupials.
Sugar gliders are arboreal omnivores belonging to the marsupial infraclass.
Sugar gliders can propel themselves up around 150 feet using a pair of gliding membranes called patagia.
Gliding enables them to reach food and defend themselves against the attacks of predators.
10. Draco Lizards
The lizards belonging to the Draco genus use their rib bones in an unusual manner.
Draco lizards have a retractable wing that helps them glide through the air. There’s several folded skin that’s connected to their outstretched ribs.
The ribs are enlarged and spread out like wings rather than protecting the animal’s torsos.
Draco lizards are arboreal reptiles that use their gliding abilities to travel between trees in their original rainforest habitats in search of food.
These species can fly at an average distance of 26 feet.
Other lizard species, such as several gecko species, have even developed extra flaps of skin alongside their heads, tails, torsos, limbs, and toes.
11. Gliding Snakes
The paradise flying snake is a lizard eater that specifically preys on the Draco Lizard.
You’ll be surprised to know that this tree snake has evolved with the ability to now flatten itself!
They achieve this flattened position by stretching their ribs just after they leap from a branch before undulating.
The act of undulating is critical for the snake to glide through the air otherwise it’ll just tumble to the ground.
In addition to the undulating process, the ribs of the snake are rotated upwards and forward before it leaps off of a tree branch.
The snake’s body width has doubled due to this rib displacement which now transforms it into a flatter, aerodynamic shape.
The gliding snake can now gracefully glide through the air in a side-to-side wave motion.
This allows certain snake species, such as the paradise tree snake, to gain some gliding motion and glide for about 30 feet.