See the "skydiver salamander" in the wind tunnel

Biologists from the University of California at Berkeley studied the behavior of a wandering salamander (Aneides

vagrans).The researchers pushed the animals off the perch into the wind tunnel. The upward flow of air simulated a free fall. Scientists recorded the actions of the salamander with a high-speed video camera that shoots 400 frames per second.

The researchers analyzed the footage todetermine the posture of the animals in the air and understand how they used their legs, bodies and tails to maneuver. The results showed that, as a rule, salamanders fell at a steep angle, deviating from the vertical by only 5 °. However, as scientists note, this is enough to reach another branch or trunk. At the same time, maneuvering in the air reduced the fall speed by about 10%.


The video compares the flight in a wind tunnel of two types of salamander: the first (nonarboreal) lives in the grass, the second (arboreal) lives in trees

“During the jumps, they have great control over maneuvers,” says Christian Brown, one of the authors of the study.- They can turn around. They are able to roll over if they fly upside down. They can maintain a paratrooper stance and swing their tail up and down to perform horizontal maneuvers. The level of control is simply impressive.”

The length of a wandering salamander is about 10 cm.These animals spend all their lives in the crowns of sequoias at a height of more than 45 m above the ground. Scientists believe they probably live in the same tree, moving up and down but never touching the ground. Skydiving is a way to avoid terrestrial predators and return to the tree from which the salamander has fallen or jumped.

Researchers note that the abilityWandering salamanders' smooth descent is particularly surprising, because apart from the enlarged foot pads, they look no different from other species of this animal. They do not have, for example, skin flaps that could open up and slow down the fall.

Cover photo: Christian Brown, UC Berkeley

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