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Gliding is quick, but hard work

colugo_flickr_Lip Kee.jpgPosted on behalf of George Wigmore.

Gliding from tree-tops in South East Asia, colugos use special flaps of skin between their limbs to move from tree to tree, covering distances of nearly 150 metres in a single glide. But instead of saving energy, the nocturnal lemur-like creatures actually glide to save time, according to a study published today in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Using accelerometers glued to the backs of six cooperative colugos, Greg Byrnes from the University of California, Berkeley and colleague Andrew Spence, from the Royal Veterinary College, recorded the movement of the animals over a number of nights, as they climbed and glided between trees.

Based on calculations of the energy used by similarly sized climbing primates, the team found that climbing up the trees and then flying actually uses around one and a half times as much energy as travelling through the canopy. This surprised the researchers, as previously it was thought that the ability may have evolved as a way to conserve energy.

But while climbing through the branches takes a long time, gliding lets the colugos go ten times faster, enabling them to travel greater distances during the night. This not only lets them spend more time foraging for food, but could also provide access to foraging patches not easily reached by moving through the canopy. The ability could also help protect them from predators, and the risk of climbing on perilous branches.

Image courtesy of Lip Kee via Flickr under Creative Commons.

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