Norman Lim

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ScienceShot: Tree Gliders Are Energy Wasters

Gliding from tree to tree may not be as relaxing as it looks. A number of small mammals, including the colugo—a flying lemur (Galeopterus variegates) native to southeast Asia and the Philippines—get around by climbing up trees and then gliding across the canopies an average distance of 30 meters. But these animals could save more energy if they just ran on all fours, according to a study published today in the Journal of Experimental Biology. By attaching small data-logging packs with motion sensors to the backs of four colugos, researchers found that it takes one-and-a-half times more energy for the animals to climb up a tree and glide from point A to B than it does for them to move the same distance through the trees. So why do they do it? Perhaps, the researchers suggest, gliding in mammals evolved for survival reasons: since they feed on canopy leaves, gliding may have protected them if they fell from the branches. It also may have helped them escape from predators, giving a new meaning to the phrase "fight or flight."

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