When we think of flying animals, birds often come to mind. However, there are plenty of other animals with this ability to move in the air – whether by traditional flying, gliding, or parachuting. Flight in animals is categorized in two ways: unpowered and powered. For unpowered movement, the animals use forces on their body to move through the air. With powered flight, the animal’s muscular power and wings generate the force for them to move.
This article will list flying animals that are not birds, including some interesting species you probably never imagined could move swiftly through the air! Let’s learn more about these fascinating animals.
12 flying animals that are not birds
Here is a list of 12 animals you can see flying around or gliding between trees. Some of them may come as a surprise to you!
Scientific suborder: Anisoptera
Dragonflies are the fastest insects on earth, traveling at speeds averaging 35 miles an hour. The fastest dragonfly species that holds a Guinness World Record is the southern giant darner (Austrophlebia costalis), timed at a speed of 59.65 miles per hour.
These insects have four wings and muscles attached at the base of their wings to control the wing angle and shape. They can make their wings do different things at once, allowing them to navigate the air effectively.
2. Hawk moth
Scientific name: Manduca rustica
The second fastest flying insect is the hawk moth that can reach speeds of up to 33.7 miles an hour. Not only are they fast, but they are also aerobatic and agile in the air, including being able to hover in place.
You can commonly find these moths from Virginia to Florida and west through Arkansas and Texas to southern California. They are deep brown to yellowish-brown and have wingspans between 3.4 and 5.9 inches.
3. Desert locust
Scientific name: Schistocerca gregaria
Desert locusts are short-horned grasshoppers that are most well known for swarming and being pests that cause damages to crops. A swarm of 250 billion individual desert locusts has been known to cover an area of 2,000 square miles.
They have four wings that can flap around 900 times a minute. These locusts can fly at speeds of 21 miles per hour and a swarm can cover over 100 miles per day.
4. Hoary bat
Scientific name: Lasiurus cinereus
The hoary bat is one of the most common bats found throughout North, Central, and South America. They can fly around 13 miles per hour and go faster in short bursts of speeds up to 25 miles per hour.
Like most bats, they use echolocation for navigation when flying. This means they emit a sharp call and identify objects from the noise that bounces off the surrounding environment.
5. Mexican free-tailed bat
Scientific name: Tadarida brasiliensis
The Mexican free-tailed bat is one of the fastest mammals on earth, giving them the nickname as the jets among bats. They reach speeds of up to 100 miles per hour during flight. Their wingspans are between 12 to 14 inches.
You can find these bats in the western U.S., Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. They can often be seen migrating south to Central and South America during the winter.
6. Northern flying squirrel
Scientific name: Glaucomys sabrinus
There are over 50 species of flying squirrels, and the northern flying squirrel is one of two species you can find in the United States. These animals are 10 to 12 inches long and are found mostly in the Northeastern states, the West Coast, Idaho, and Montana.
In order to soar through the air, they use a membrane connected to their front and back legs that act similar to a parachute catching the wind. To move from tree to tree, they will jump and stretch their limbs to reveal the membrane. They can cover over 150 feet in a single glide.
7. Southern flying squirrel
Scientific name: Glaucomys volans
The southern flying squirrel moves through the air similar to the northern species and at a similar range of 150 feet. The main difference is these squirrels are smaller at 8 to 10 inches long and have white belly fur instead of gray.
Flying squirrels use their gliding abilities to escape from predators in their forest and woodland habitats. They can quickly scurry away after landing from a flight from another tree. You can find this species throughout the eastern U.S., including Maine to Florida, Minnesota, and Texas.
Scientific family: Cynocephalidae
Colugos, also called flying lemurs, are one of the most skilled gliding mammals. They accomplish flight similar to squirrels and also have similar body structures. These mammals have a membrane from their face and fingers to their toes and tail that they spread out when gliding between trees.
They also have a very light skeleton that helps them during flight, so they can soar 200 feet from tree to tree in rainforest habitats. There are only two species of colugo that is known: the Sunda flying lemur (Galeopterus variegatus) and the Philippine flying lemur (Cynocephalus volans).
9. Flattie spiders
Scientific family: Selenopidae
Also known as wall crab spiders, flatties get their name from their flat-looking bodies. While some spiders will use their silk to appear like they are flying through the air, these spiders don’t need any silk. Instead, they can use their feet to steer in the air when gliding from tree to tree.
If a flattie wants to turn left, they will angle their right front leg. To turn right, they do the same to their left front leg.
10. Flying fish
Scientific family: Exocoetidae
There are 70 known flying fish species. All of them live in warm ocean waters and are shaped like a torpedo, so they can build up speed underwater before breaking the surface and flying. They will beat their tails below the surface and reach speeds up to 37 miles per hour before lifting up into the air.
Flying fish can lift above the water at heights around 4 feet and glide 655 feet. Since these fish are hunted by various big fish such as swordfish, mackerel, and marlin, scientists believe they evolved to glide to escape predators.
11. Draco lizard
Scientific name: Draco volans
The Draco lizard is a small, interesting-looking lizard native to southeast Asian jungles, growing around 7.8 inches, including their tails. They have ribs that extend or retract and between their ribs is a fold of skin that looks like wings when unfolded.
These lizards can travel in the air up to 190 feet and will use their tails to steer. They are very territorial and commonly use their gliding ability to chase away other lizards.
12. Paradise tree snake
Scientific name: Chrysopelea paradisi
While we commonly associate snakes with slithering on the ground or climbing trees, the paradise tree snake can effectively glide and turn in the air. They flatten and stiffen their body into an S-shape and can travel over 65 feet.
These snakes are native to southeast Asia and are most active during the day. They grow up to 5 feet long and have bright green, yellow, and red colors on their flower-like scales.