What Are Aerial Animals?

Chris Heald/CC-BY 2.0

Aerial animals are animals that can transport themselves in the air either by gliding or flying. In addition to many species of birds and insects, many other types of animals are aerial as well.

Truly powered flight can only be achieved by birds, bats and insects. The strong flapping of their wings generates both lift and thrust because it causes the airflow above the wings to be quicker. Flying birds and bats tend to be light for their size with particularly light fused bones. They also tend to have extra large hearts and thoracic muscles. Because flying insects are so small and their anatomical features are so unique, air turbulence has a much stronger effect on them, so their flight patterns are more difficult to study.

Soaring is a type of gliding that only certain flying animals can take advantage of. It involves taking advantage of rising air currents to sustain flight for long distances with almost no flapping, so very little energy is expended. Some animals that can do this include large birds, such as vultures, condors, albatrosses and a few insects, such as the monarch butterfly.

Gravitational gliding requires special anatomical features that allow an animal to either parachute to land safely or to steer themselves in the direction they wish to go. Animals that can do this include flying squirrels, flying fish, gliding ants, flying squids, monkey spiders, flying frogs, geckos and feather-tailed possums.