Let’s celebrate this weekend’s Leap Day by joining some of the Earth’s most talented leapers.
Wildlife leapers come in all shapes and sizes.
One of my favorite leapers is the impala. Prime prey for many of Africa’s large mammals, impala’s defense includes leaps. Look at those long, thin legs…what magic they can do.
They have a leap so unique, it has it’s own word: stotting.
While running, they fly through the air, land on their forelegs, then kick up their hind legs, and land on all four again. It’s all so fast you don’t know what happened until it’s over. There are many theories for the purpose of this tactic, mainly defense (see link above). There’s a stotting photo at the end.
The Klipspringer is another leaping African antelope, lives on rocky cliffs. Their name comes from Afrikaans: klip (“rock”) springer (“leaper”).
This klipspringer was about a mile above us on a rocky hillside, gracefully darting across a precipitous granite wall.
More leapers live across the world in Australia where hopping kangaroos are a classic sight. They hop with the aid of large, stretchy tendons in their hind legs; the tail is also an aid.
This wallaby was only as tall as my knee, and her hop was not very big. I think the joey in her pouch might’ve had something to do with that.
This kangaroo, on the other hand, was nearly as tall as me.
Once when I was on an Australian back road, a mob of large kangaroos came clomping by at great speed. There were about a half dozen of them, and what a cacophony with their long hind feet and tails slapping the ground.
They tried to change course when they saw our jeep, but they were moving at such high speed that even when they stopped hopping, their large, heavy bodies kept sliding.
And then there’s monkeys. They sail through the air, land on a tree limb, grab onto vines, and skillfully make their way through a forest. They use their tails, too.
If you have ever spent a night in a monkey’s world, you are familiar with the sounds of this mischievous mammal pouncing on the rooftop above you.
We had the fortune of watching these colobus monkeys effortlessly swinging through the trees.
Frogs jump. This crazy one landed on glass, affording a good view of their powerful jumping legs and suction-cup toe pads.
Many frogs can jump more than 20 times their body length.
We found this frog sleeping in the ladies’ room blinds, in Mareeba Australia. It was a hot day in the Fahrenheit hundreds and this opportunist found a cool spot…no jumping that day.
These two colorful frogs are tiny–about the size of your thumb. With their petite size, they are far more difficult to spot than you would think, considering their loud colors.
This tiny poison dart frog chose a soggy grass patch to hide in. For every step I took to see it, a cloud of mosquitoes poofed up. About 20 mosquito bites later, it landed on this more posable wood piece.
Rabbits hop. We happened to startle this one while hiking in Nevada. We were in rattlesnake territory, so I was relieved it was only a rabbit that hopped out of the undergrowth.
Last summer I accidentally startled a large rattlesnake, and that’s when I did the hopping.
And where would we be without leaping lizards in our world?
Lizards have a long list of predators, so they have to be quick. Whether they are small…
…they can vanish in an instant.
My favorite lizard, the basilisk, can be seen here demonstrating the muscular legs that lend them their leaping skills. They not only leap on land, they leap on water, too.
Not to be outdone by mammals, amphibians, or reptiles, some of our long-legged insects have incredible leaping abilities. Spiders, crickets, grasshoppers and katydids, to name a few.
I live on a dry, chaparral mountain and hot summer days are great for watching grasshoppers. They leap so high I can’t even see where they go. It’s only when they land that I see them again. Their long legs catapult them into the air and their wings extend the leap into flight.
I’ve read that if humans could jump the way grasshoppers do, we would be able to easily leap the length of a football field.
Even though Leap Day only occurs once every four years, we have the pleasure of these leaping creatures every day on Earth. Makes me want to leap with joy.
Written by Jet Eliot.
All photos by Athena Alexander except for last photo.