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Gliding saves time but not energy in Malayan colugos
Greg Byrnes, Thomas Libby, Norman T.-L. Lim, Andrew J. Spence


Gliding is thought to be an economical form of locomotion. However, few data on the climbing and gliding of free-ranging gliding mammals are available. This study employed an animal-borne three-dimensional acceleration data-logging system to collect continuous data on the climbing and gliding of free-ranging Malayan colugos, Galeopterus variegatus. We combined these movement data with empirical estimates of the metabolic costs to move horizontally or vertically to test this long-standing hypothesis by determining whether the metabolic cost to climb to sufficient height to glide a given distance was less than the cost to move an equivalent distance horizontally through the canopy. On average, colugos climb a short distance to initiate glides. However, due to the high energetic cost of climbing, gliding is more energetically costly to move a given horizontal distance than would be predicted for an animal travelling the same distance through the canopy. Furthermore, because colugos spend a small fraction of their time engaged in locomotor activity, the high costs have little effect on their overall energy budget. As a result, the energetic economy hypothesis for the origins of gliding is not supported. It is likely that other ecologically relevant factors have played a greater role in the origins of gliding in colugos and other mammals.


  • * Present address: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cincinnati, P.O. Box 210006, Cincinnati, OH 45221-0006, USA

  • This work was funded by grants from the Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, and Wildlife Reserves Singapore to G.B., and a Royal Society International Travel Grant to A.J.S. and G.B.

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