WATCH: Wandering Salamander Glides Through Air in Parachute-Like Motion

by Taylor Cunningham
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Researchers recently discovered that the wandering salamander has a unique and never before studied talent. They can jump from great heights and use a parachute-like motion to safely glide to the ground.

The tiny lizard, which looks similar to the clouded salamander, only grows up to three inches long. They’re common in California’s Redwood Forest as well as parts of British Columbia.

Until recently, scientists believed the creature simply scaled up and down the world’s largest trees with its legs, just like every other salamander. But a recent study published in Current Biology explained its previously unknown ability.

“Although hundreds of species of lungless salamanders are known to climb, aerial behavior had not been described,” Christian Brown, a researcher at the University of South Florida, US, and lead author of the study wrote.

“Our investigation of aerial behavior revealed that highly arboreal species of salamanders, especially the wandering salamander (Aneides vagrans), reliably engage in parachuting and gliding to slow and direct their descent,” he continued.

The Study Observed Five Different Salamander Species

Brown decided to study the phenomenon after he observed wandering salamanders at Humboldt State University. While handling the tiny animals, he realized that they liked to jump from his hand and assume skydiving postures.

Other creatures, such as tree-dwelling ants and spiders as well as other lizard species will take that posture while jumping or falling. So he put salamanders to the test to see if they do the same.

During the study, Brown and his team dropped the wandering salamander and three other salamander species, including the arboreal salamander, the black salamander, and the Ensatina salamander, into wind tunnels. They adjusted the airflow to recreate a fall from a tree. Some of the species commonly live in trees while others prefer low-lying homes.

The Wandering Salamander Can Slow Their Falling Speeds by 10%

Brown used five specimens from each species, and each species went through 45 wind tunnel trials. And the wandering salamander had the most obvious skydiving instinct of all.

“Most surprising to us was the exquisite level of control that the more arboreal salamanders had in the vertical wind tunnel,” Brown wrote. “Wandering salamanders were especially adept and seemed to instinctively deploy skydiving postures upon first contact with the airstream.”

However, all tree-dwelling salamanders were able to take the posture and slow their falling speed by 10%.

“These salamanders were not only able to slow themselves down, but also used fine-scale control in pitch, roll, and yaw to maintain upright body postures, execute banking turns, and glide horizontally,” he added. “This level of aerial control was unexpected because these salamanders do not seem to possess conspicuous features for aerial control.”