A hop, skip and a jump for Leap Year from Sussex Wildlife Trust

By Charlotte Owen, WildCall Officer

With this being a Leap Year, we thought we’d take a look at a few creatures that leap!

Frog

Most frogs can jump 10 to 20 times their body length thanks to incredibly powerful thigh muscles, coupled with stretchy tendons that store energy like a spring. When this energy is released, the frog is launched skywards and it’s a very effective way to escape from danger.

Spiders

Jumping spiders are among the tiniest of our 650 native spider species, at just a few millimetres long. Their vision is exceptional and far superior to most spiders, which can only distinguish light from dark, so they are active hunters with no need of a web. Their visual acuity allows them to track down and pounce on their targets with deadly accuracy, leaping up to 14 times their own body length in the process. Favourite prey includes pesky greenfly and mosquitoes, so they provide a valuable natural pest control service.

Brown Hare

Brown Hare © Clare Andrews
Brown Hare © Clare Andrews

The Brown Hare is the speediest of our land mammals, reaching speeds of up to 45 mph. Hares don’t burrow so they need to be fast to escape hungry predators. Their ability to zig-zag unpredictably while sprinting makes them even more elusive, and few predators can keep up. Leaping sideways may also help to disrupt their scent trail, so they can’t be tracked down either. But Hares are best known for their boxing behaviour during the breeding season, leaping into the air and standing on their hind legs while batting at their opponent with their front paws. This is most often a female Hare fighting off unwelcome advances, either because she’s not yet ready to mate or she’s simply not impressed with the male’s athletic abilities.

Roe Deer

Roe Deer can run at up to 37 mph, and this impressive speed allows them to cover a huge horizontal distance (5m or 16 feet) in a single bound. Perhaps more impressively, they can also jump vertically and will easily leap a six-foot fence.

Wood Mouse

Wood Mouse c. Alan Price

The Wood Mouse is a real gymnast with the speed and agility to climb, leap and scurry over almost any obstacle. They’re naturally bouncy little creatures with large, powerful hind feet – like a Kangaroo – and their long tails provide balance while airborne. At the slightest hint of danger, they’ll escape with an impressive long-distance leap of up to ten feet (three metres) and retreat to the safety of their burrow. This is where they will spend most of the daylight hours, although braver individuals can sometimes be spotted snacking at bird feeders.

Birds – why do some hop rather than walk?

Hopping is more common in smaller birds but for many it’s the most efficient way of moving, especially for birds with very short legs. They can cover a much greater distance in a single hop than they can in a single stride, so it’s both quicker and more energy-efficient to hop.

Dolphins

Dolphins leap out of the water by swimming rapidly towards the surface, powered by their muscular tails. They will usually need a ‘run-up’ and will swim deeper to gain the distance they need to build up sufficient speed to leap out of the water in a behaviour known as breaching. Wild Bottlenose Dolphins can leap about 15 feet (4.5 metres) – higher than a double decker bus! Breaching is often a form of play, but it could serve several purposes including communication, navigation, and courtship.

Flea

The most impressive jumpers in the animal kingdom are the fleas. They can leap 50 times their own body length at a speed of 1.9 metres per second. Their hind legs are powered by an internal spring, a pad of elastic protein called resilin. When their leg muscles contract to prepare for a leap, energy is stored in the resilin pad and rapidly released, catapulting the flea into the air.

According to Guinness World Records, a Common Flea in 1910 performed a long-jump of 33 cm (13 inches) and a high-jump of 19.7 cm (7.75 inches). More recently, the use of a slow-motion camera and a scale model of the Empire State Building confirmed that a flea can leap to a height of about 15cm – not quite enough to leap over the building entirely but still enormously impressive for a creature just a few millimetres long.

You can get in contact with the Sussex Wildlife Trust via their central administration office at Woods Mill, Henfield, West Sussex, BN5 9SD during office opening hours of 10am – 4pm.

email: enquiries@sussexwt.org.uk
telephone: 01273 492630

https://sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/

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