Gripping tightly to a tree trunk, at first sight a colugo might be mistaken for a lemur. However, when this animal leaps it launches into a graceful glide, spreading wide the enormous membrane that spans its legs and tail to cover distances of up to 150m. So, when Greg Byrnes and his colleague Andrew Spence from the University of California, Berkeley, USA, were looking around for a mammal to carry the accelerometer/radio transmitter backpacks that the duo designed to track animals in the field, the colugo was an obvious choice. 'They are a large glider and it was an opportunity to learn about an animal that we didn't know much about,' says Byrnes. Admitting that they were initially interested in the natural history of these charismatic creatures, Byrnes realised that they could use the information gathered to find out about the cost of the colugo's gliding lifestyle. Flying to Singapore, Byrnes teamed up with Norman Lim to track the gliding mammals and the team discovered that instead of saving energy, colugos glide to save time. They publish this discovery in The Journal of Experimental Biology at http://jeb.biologists.org/content/214/16/2690.abstract
Describing how some of the nocturnal colugos roost low in the forest, Byrnes was able to capture six of the mammals and glue the accelerometer packs to their backs before allowing them to scurry back up their trees for their first glide of the night. Explaining that the data loggers were able to collect data for 3 days, Byrnes and Lim tracked the animals until the data loggers eventually fell off and they were able to retrieve them several weeks later.
Back in Berkeley, Byrnes, Spence and Thomas Libby had the unenviable task of managing the colossal amount of data collected: 'We were sampling at 100Hz for days,' explains Byrnes. According to Byrnes, there is a distinctive acceleration profile when they glide. 'Wh
|Contact: Kathryn Knight|
The Company of Biologists