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Are there any living things that can fly without wings? © Getty

Are there any living things that can fly without wings?

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Those afraid of all things that slither and crawl should look away now, gliding critters come second place to other wingless fliers.

Asked by: Adam King, Huddersfield

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Depending on how strict you want to be, you might say that flying squirrels, flying frogs and flying lizards all count. But these are really only gliding or parachuting, and the various flaps of skin stretched between their legs, toes or ribs are also suspiciously similar to wings.

However, the flying snakes of the genus Chrysopelea are in a different league. They can flatten their body so that it’s twice as wide as normal, and curved inward on the underside. When they leap from a tree, they don’t simply glide passively. Instead, they undulate their body sideways in a way that actually generates lift over their wing-shaped body. Flying snakes can travel up to 100m with this method – further than the other gliding animals.

Even more impressive are the various species of spider that can spin silk into thin air and use it like a kite to transport themselves. Most land a few metres away, but they can be carried up into the jet stream and travel for thousands of kilometres.

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Authors

luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.

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