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Flying Without Wings

November 21, 2014

Some animals took to the skies long before the advent of wings.

Transcript

Like skydivers, some animals don't need wings to maneuver in the air. (Douglas S. Smith/Wikipedia)

Like skydivers, some animals don’t need wings to maneuver in the air. (Douglas S. Smith/Wikipedia)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Flying without wings. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Birds, bats and insects may rule the skies, but as any skydiver knows, you don’t need wings to fly.

ROBERT DUDLEY (University of California, Berkeley):

They’re controlling the aerodynamic forces; they can initiate spins, rolls, tumbles, and really control their body posture to great accuracy in midair.

HIRSHON:

That’s UC, Berkeley physiologist Robert Dudley, who studies the evolutionary origins of flight. He says like skydivers, many insects also maneuver through the air without wings, or only partial wings.

DUDLEY:

They can use different pieces of their anatomy to effectively generate and control the aerodynamic forces.

HIRSHON:

Dudley’s research on primitive insects has demonstrated that the physiological adaptations used in powered flight occurred well before the evolution of wings.

DUDLEY:

We think of flight as being rare, but if we think of flight as controlled aerial behavior, it may be very widespread in the animal kingdom.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.