Watch: Salamanders glide atop the world’s tallest trees

The wandering salamander has unique gliding skills that help it survive in the crowns of ancient California redwood trees. Credit: University of California, Berkeley via YouTube

Not all salamanders live under rocks or in the water. California hosts a species that lives in the crowns of redwoods—the world’s tallest trees—and although it’s called the wandering salamander (Aneides vagrans), it’s the ability to glide that has captivated researchers. Biologists believe its aerial maneuverability allows it to steer back to the tree if it’s jumped or fallen and avoid predators on the ground.

“While they’re parachuting, they have an exquisite amount of maneuverable control,” said Christian Brown, a doctoral candidate at the University of South Floridain Tampa and first author of a paper about these behaviors published recently in Current Biology. “They are able to turn. They are able to flip themselves over if they go upside down. They’re able to maintain that skydiving posture and kind of pump their tail up and down to make horizontal maneuvers. The level of control is just impressive.”

Researchers used high-speed video footage in a wind tunnel to watch the behavior, but in the wild, an individual salamander typically spends its life in a single tree in old-growth forests. Conserving forests for salamanders would “would be a new bar for conservation,” Brown said.

“It is not there in these new-growth forests created by logging companies. Perhaps it would help not just efforts in conserving redwoods, but restoring redwoods, so that we could actually get canopy ecosystems.”

Read more from the University of California, and watch the video below to see salamanders in action.