Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Unexpected Flying Animals" or "Winged Convergent Evolution"

Flying fish become airborne by leaping from the water and spreading their enormous pectoral fins.  They typically fly from 100-200 feet, an adaptation that is thought to have evolved for predator-evasion.  Check it out!

Flying fish have to hold their breath (WTF)!!

Moving from fish to reptiles, the flying snake climbs up trees (not unusual for snakes) and then jumps (unusual for snakes) from tree to tree.  The snake flies (ok, glides) by distorting nearly its entire body into a concave wing-like shape and undulating through the air, in a process that is much more energy efficient and less prone to predation than slithering down to the ground and back up.

Snakes and fish, whose last common ancestor lived nearly 400 million years ago (!!!), have both learned how to fly.  Amazing!  This is an example of something called convergent evolution, where species develop similar adaptations that they do NOT inherit from a common ancestor.  It's like the opposite of why we humans look kind of like chimpanzees.

Enough conceptualizing, check out this flying dragon lizard!!!

Moving on to mammals, who diverged evolutionarily from reptiles around 300 million years ago (!!!!!!).  They soar through the air using flaps of skin between their fingers (in the case of bats) or appendages (in the case of the three animals shown below).  Starting with the flying squirrel:

...and on to the flying lemurs (Colugos) of the Philippines (only the first 30 seconds of this video are worth watching):

...and finally, the similarly-shaped flying humans of insane-ville: