7 "Flying" Animals (besides bugs, birds, and bats)

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The only animals that can truly fly are birds, insects, and one type of mammal, which is of course the bat. Other animals manage to travel through the air by gliding from great heights, or leaping from the depths.

1. Flying Mobulas

The mobula or devil ray is related to manta rays. They can grow up to 17 feet wide and ten feet long. These muscular fish can leap several feet out of the water, but no one is quite sure why they do it.

2. Flying Lemurs

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Flying lemurs of the family Cynocephalidae are neither true lemurs, nor do they actually fly. They are also known by their Malaysian name, colugos. These mammals live in southeast Asia and are about the size of a house cat. Colugos glide between trees using their patagium, or flaps of skin between their front and hind legs and extending to the tail and the neck. Colugos are even webbed between their toes. The flying lemur is not a lemur, but the four species of Cynocephalidae are the closest related family to primates.

3. Flying Fish

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There are about 50 different species of flying fish, although they don't fly so much as they leap from the water with a push of their powerful pectoral fins. Most of the species live in tropical waters. Fish have been observed skipping over the waves for as long as 45 seconds at a time. Why do they leap into the air? Possibly because air offers less resistance than water, and the fish can move faster. At least until they need to breathe.

4. Flying snake

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The flying snake (Chrysopelea paradisi) lives in the rain forests of Southeast Asia. It has no patagium, but glides from the treetops by flattening its body out to maximize surface area. The snakes slither from side to side to glide in the desired direction. The idea of a flying snake may be terrifying, but these snakes are officially classified as "harmless". Photograph by Jake Socha.

5. Flying Gecko

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The flying gecko lives in -you guessed it- the Malaysian rain forest. The gecko has a patagium that allows it to parachute or glide down from its treetop home. Flying geckos are sometimes kept as pets.

6. Flying Frog

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Wallace's flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus) is found in Maysia and Indonesia, where it lives high in the treetops. This frog has long webbed toes and a skin flap between its limbs which allows it to parachute down from treetops. The term "parachute" in this case refers to the fact that the animal floats downward at a steep angle, while other "gliding" animals can float to one side or another and change direction while gliding downward. Although Wallace's flying frog prefer to live high up, they must descend to near ground level to mate and to lay eggs. Photograph by Tim Laman.

7. Flying Squirrel

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Flying squirrels (Pteromyini) include 43 different species. They are native to North America, northern Europe, and Siberia. When they leap from a tall tree, a flying squirrel will spread its skin flaps until it resembles a kite or parachute. The squirrel can steer somewhat by moving its wrists and adjusting the tautness of its patagium.

There are more animals that can glide, float, or jump through the air with what seems like the greatest of ease. For this post, I restricted the list to those creatures who have the word "flying" in their common names.

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July 9, 2009 - 4:06am
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