Take-off and landing kinetics of a free-ranging gliding mammal, the Malayan colugo (Galeopterus variegatus)

Byrnes, G and Lim, N T L and Spence, A J (2008) Take-off and landing kinetics of a free-ranging gliding mammal, the Malayan colugo (Galeopterus variegatus). PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, 275 (1638). pp. 1007-1013.

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Abstract

Arboreal animals negotiate a highly three-dimensional world that is discontinuous on many spatial scales. As the scale of substrate discontinuity increases, many arboreal animals rely on leaping or gliding locomotion between distant supports. In order to successfully move through their habitat, gliding animals must actively modulate both propulsive and aerodynamic forces. Here we examined the take-off and landing kinetics of a free-ranging gliding mammal, the Malayan colugo (Galeopterus variegatus) using a custom-designed three-dimensional accelerometry system. We found that colugos increase the propulsive impulse to affect longer glides. However, we also found that landing forces are negatively associated with glide distance. Landing forces decrease rapidly as glide distance increases from the shortest glides, then level off, suggesting that the ability to reorient the aerodynamic forces prior to landing is an important mechanism to reduce velocity and thus landing forces. This ability to substantially alter the aerodynamic forces acting on the patagial wing in order to reorient the body is a key to the transition between leaping and gliding and allows gliding mammals to travel long distances between trees with reduced risk of injury. Longer glides may increase the access to distributed resources and reduce the exposure to predators in the canopy or on the forest floor.