Do the Locomotion

Surprising discoveries about animal movement

08-01-2005 // Laura Tangley

BIOLOGISTS investigating how animals move from one place to another have recently made some surprising discoveries:

Running bats: To study across-the-ground movement of vampire bats, Cornell University biologists put them on a miniature treadmill, then videotaped what happened as it sped up. The surprising result was that the bats eventually broke into a run, an ability—a first among bats—that may help the mammals escape predators or keep pace with prey.

Strolling cephalopods: What does an octopus do if it feels threatened? For two tropical species, the answer is raise six arms and walk backwards on the other two, a strategy that allows the animals to escape slowly and discreetly enough to maintain their protective camouflage. The University of California–Berkeley biologists who discovered the behavior say it’s the first known example of “underwater bipedal locomotion.”

Flying ants: Another first, this time among wingless insects: Researchers using high-speed video found that when arboreal ants of 25 species in Peru, Panama and Costa Rica fall out of a tree, they can make 180-degree midair turns using abdominal undulations and glide back to the branch they came from.

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