New Flying Wildlife – Part 1

JeholopterusNow, it isn’t too hard to predict what sorts of creatures might take to the sea and evolve into orders of great marine animals. Much harder is to imagine what sorts of creatures might take flight, spreading their wings for greater evolutionary horizons. You would think that the gliding animals would be first to take the steps towards true flight. But with there being established flying animals in ecosystems, it would take an extinction for the gliding animals to take over. Evolution has ignored this before, though. Even with the magnificent pterosaurs ruling the skies, some small maniraptoran dinosaurs developed the first feathers and started to use them for short flight. Those maniraptors were to achieve something great: the origin of birds, among the most diverse group of vertebrate animals around today. Again, evolution would produce flying creatures when some sort of small shrew-like insectivore began to glide to catch prey. Over time its gliding membrane would become a wing, and we now have bats, the sadly infamous creatures of the dark (bats have been so poorly stereotyped as bloodthirsty mangy nocturnal predators). Now, do I think with birds and bats that some of the current gliding creatures might fly? Not likely. These two groups fill so many niches, so perfectly that I cannot see how any new flying order might evolve with them still being extant. So, what if in some strange extinction all birds and bats went extinct?

Humboldt squid

I shall begin this series with the possibility of flying squids: The squids of Onmastrephidae, the so-called flying squids, are known to proprell themselves from the water using their funnels. This means, basically, that they use jet-propelled flight as a means of locomotion. Thus, if they were to ever master this technique, they would be “jet squids”. Plus, I think the fins have the chance to become muscular and achieve some capability of flapping in order to maintain this strange form of flight. Modern flying squids can glide distances of 50 meters, about the same maximum distance as flying fish. This is a pretty amazing feat if you think about it. Now, interestingly, this group also includes the Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas). Not to get off topic, but this is a wonderful species of squid with great evolutionary potential. It is an aggressive predator known to attack divers and fisherman and can weigh up to 100 pounds. It is also the only known invertebrate to hunt cooperatively, something that could lead to specialization in larger prey later on in the evolutionary continuum of this monster of a cephalopod. I will likely touch back on the subject of the Humboldt later on. In Part 2 of this series, I will discuss flying fish, butterflyfish, hatchetfish, and flying frogs. In Part 3, I will discuss gliding reptiles and mammals.