Terrestrial locomotion


An example of terrestrial locomotion. A horse – an erect-stanced unguligrade quadruped – with a galloping gait. A 2006 animation of 1887 photos by Eadweard Muybridge

Terrestrial locomotion has evolved as animals adapted from aquatic to terrestrial environments. Locomotion on land raises different problems than that in water, with reduced friction being replaced by the increased effects of gravity.

As viewed from evolutionary taxonomy, there are three basic forms of animal locomotion in the terrestrial environment:

Some terrains and terrestrial surfaces permit or demand alternative locomotive styles. A sliding component to locomotion becomes possible on slippery surfaces (such as ice and snow), where location is aided by potential energy, or on loose surfaces (such as sand or scree), where friction is low but purchase (traction) is difficult. Humans, especially, have adapted to sliding over terrestrial snowpack and terrestrial ice by means of ice skates, snow skis, and toboggans.

Aquatic animals adapted to polar climates, such as ice seals and penguins also take advantage of the slipperiness of ice and snow as part of their locomotion repertoire. Beavers are known to take advantage of a mud slick known as a "beaver slide" over a short distance when passing from land into a lake or pond. Human locomotion in mud is improved through the use of cleats. Some snakes use an unusual method of movement known as sidewinding on sand or loose soil. Animals caught in terrestrial mudflows are subject to involuntary locomotion; this may be beneficial to the distribution of species with limited locomotive range under their own power. There is less opportunity for passive locomotion on land than by sea or air, though parasitism (hitchhiking) is available toward this end, as in all other habitats.

Many species of monkeys and apes use a form of arboreal locomotion known as brachiation, with forelimbs as the prime mover. Some elements of the gymnastic sport of uneven bars resemble brachiation, but most adult humans do not have the upper body strength required to sustain brachiation. Many other species of arboreal animal with tails will incorporate their tails into the locomotion repertoire, if only as a minor component of their suspensory behaviors.

Locomotion on irregular, steep surfaces require agility and dynamic balance known as sure-footedness. Mountain goats are famed for navigating vertiginous mountainsides where the least misstep could lead to a fatal fall.

Many species of animals must sometimes locomote while safely conveying their young. Most often this task is performed by adult females. Some species are specially adapted to conveying their young without occupying their limbs, such as marsupials with their special pouch. In other species, the young are carried on the mother's back, and the offspring have instinctual clinging behaviours. Many species incorporate specialized transportation behaviours as a component of their locomotion repertoire, such as the dung beetle when rolling a ball of dung, which combines both rolling and limb-based elements.

The remainder of this article focuses on the anatomical and physiological distinctions involving terrestrial locomotion from the taxonomic perspective.


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