Science

Watch these “parachuting” salamanders parachute from California redwoods

Watch these "parachuting" salamanders parachute from California redwoods
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A salamander that lives high in California’s coastal redwoods has some pretty impressive aerial skills, according to a UC Berkeley study.

According to the article published Monday in the journal Current Biology.

Experts believe that the amphibians, who inhabit the towering coastal redwoods of northern California, have adapted to their dangerously high habitats thanks to these skills that come in handy in the event of a fall. It also allows them to stay off the ground and avoid predators.

Christian Brown, a doctoral student at the University of South Florida and first author of the joint paper with UC Berkeley researchers, said in a press release that salamanders can flip, turn and “pump their tails up and down to perform horizontal maneuvers”. ”

“While they’re skydiving, they have an exquisite amount of maneuverable control,” he said.

Brown said Sunday that the wandering salamander is well known to scientists, but unless you live among the upstate coast redwood forests, you’re never likely to encounter one “because of its range. limited distribution and its niche in the canopy”.

A salamander living in California’s coastal redwoods has impressive aerial skills, according to a UC Berkeley study. The wandering salamander has evolved in its ability to glide, parachute, and move through the air from tree to tree. The creature is seen in a video image from UC Berkeley.

UC Berkeley

“Prior to this research, aerial behaviors had not been described in any salamander species,” he told The Chronicle Sunday in an email. “Aerial righting, parachuting, gliding, and maneuvering are all newly reported behaviors for lungless arboreal salamanders.”

The Brown and UC Berkeley researchers put the creature’s fascinating skills to the test by setting up a wind tunnel and nudging the salamanders from a perch to see how they would react. UC Berkeley graduate student Erik Sathe and Brown compared the behavior of the wandering salamander to that of three other species native to northern California.

They found that the wandering salamander was the most adept at “skydiving.”

“What struck me when I first saw the videos is that they (the salamanders) are so gentle – there is no discontinuity or noise in their movements; they surf totally up in the air,” Robert Dudley, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology and animal flight expert, said in the press release.

He added that this behavior is “deeply rooted in their motor response” and is not “passive skydiving” but rather gliding.

In the comparison, a species known as the tree salamander (A. lugubris), which lives in shorter trees, was second best at maneuvering in the air. Two other salamander species – Ensatina eschscholtzi and A. flavipunctatus, which sometimes live on forest floors, sometimes climb trees — “failed inefficiently” in the wind tunnel and never slid like other species, according to the press release.

A close up of a wandering salamander, or Aneides vagrans on a tree.  UC Berkeley researchers used a wind tunnel to document how the northern California species glides and parachutes through the air.

A close up of a wandering salamander, or Aneides vagrans on a tree. UC Berkeley researchers used a wind tunnel to document how the northern California species glides and parachutes through the air.

Provided by UC Berkeley

Brown said there are hundreds of species of salamanders around the world that can climb trees and cave walls and live in high places, so it’s possible there are others that can. to control their body in the event of a fall.

The researchers used a high-speed video camera to film the salamanders and analyzed the footage to understand how they would perform in their natural environment. The amphibians fell at a steep angle, the statement said, but given the spacing between the branches and the crowns of redwoods, Brown and Dudley noticed that would usually be enough for them to reach a branch or trunk without collapsing at the floor. They found that the “parachuting” motion would reduce free fall speed by about 10%.

Brown encountered these salamanders while working in Humboldt and Del Norte counties with nonprofit and university conservation groups that mark and track animals that live in the redwood canopy, mostly in old-growth forest in about 150 feet from the ground.

He said that when he picked them up, they immediately jumped out of his hands, which was especially interesting considering how high up they lived.

The fact that a “charismatic salamander” that can hover, parachute and move through the air lives in the redwoods is fascinating in itself, Brown said. He said it was also crucial that people learn about and appreciate the endangered world in which the salamanders live.

“I would like this discovery to highlight the fact that while great strides in protecting and restoring redwood forests have been made in the field, scientists have barely scratched the surface studying the canopy ecosystem. redwoods and the unique wildlife it has shaped through evolutionary time,” he said. “With climate change occurring at an unprecedented rate, it is vitally important that we collect more data on animals like wandering salamanders so that we can better understand, protect and preserve this delicate ecosystem.”

Kellie Hwang is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: kellie.hwang@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @KellieHwang


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