Skydiving salamanders have mastered falling with style

At first glance, the 5-inch-long wandering salamander doesn’t appear particularly suited for a life of aerial acrobatics. The amphibians, which can spend their entire lives in the crowns of California’s redwood trees, don’t have the membranes or skin flaps seen in gliding lizards, frogs, or mammals. But when disturbed, wandering salamanders will launch themselves into the air and drop considerable distances onto the branches below. 

These aren’t frantic, uncontrolled plunges, scientists reported on May 23 in Current Biology. When the researchers dropped wandering salamanders, Aneides vagrans, into wind tunnels, the amphibians assumed a position similar to that of human skydivers and used their tails and feet to slow down and guide their descent. This discovery…

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