Animal Locomotion: 10 Marvelous Means of Movement

Locomotion is a fascinating thing. Though we typically only think about swimming, walking or flying, there are over 30 different documented types of animal locomotion. From slithering snakes to rolling armadillos to moon-walking inch worms, check out these strange and fascinating facts about animal movement.

The Annoyingly Versatile Vampire Bat

(Image via Cornell)

Hi! We heard there was blood?

The vampire bat not only sucks blood, possesses infallible echolocation skills and flies better than most stealth bombers – it can walk. Make that run. As in sprint across a field almost as fast as you. This really, er, sucks for the cattle of South America, who have a hard enough time as it is without worrying about indigenous vampire bats running up and biting their ankles. (Bats are also the only mammals that can fly.)

Squirrels and Their Freaky Cousins

(Image via University of New Hampshire)

Squirrels have astonishing agility. They can run wires, hop branches and dangle from swinging tree limbs without a second thought. They can also walk upside down – upwards and downwards on a tree trunk – with equal speed thanks to their 180 degree rotating ankle sockets. Flying squirrels, a related species to the common rat-with-fluffier-tail seen at picnics across America, can actually “fly” up to several feet thanks to specialized built-in wing suits of skin.

They See Me Rollin’, They Hatin’

(Image via transfrontiers)

Armadillos aren’t the only creatures who rely on gravity to get the ball rolling. Namib wheeling spiders, pangolins and web-toed salamanders also make use of stop, drop, and roll. Now that’s ninja. The wheeling spider prefers to roll down sand dunes to escape predators, while pangolins and armadillos typically ball up to avoid snakes. (Shown: a tightly wound pangolin. Chill, dude, it’s just a photographer.)

Water Striders and the Jesus Christ Lizard

Walking on water is something no human has managed to do, but plenty of insects and lizards seem to possess the power. The water strider is the ant of the water-walking world, able to jump and skid on water while holding 15 times its weight, without sinking. The aptly named Jesus Christ lizard easily races along the water, as seen in this video.

Private Jets

Both the squid and the octopus move via jet propulsion, which is pretty awesome. The octopus is especially gifted – not only can it propel itself, it can move around via its chimpanzee-strength tentacles that come complete with suckers (which we’re pretty sure would never slip off the shower wall). It can also change color, shape, size (even at 600 pounds, like the octopus in the video above) and, of course, shoot blinding ink to make a fast escape.

Sometimes they don’t take kindly to being bothered, as you can see in the footage above of a giant squid attacking a camera. Squid and octopi are exceptionally intelligent, sensitive creatures, and some believe they are more intelligent than dolphins, perhaps even possessing a concept of grammar. You might think twice at the sushi bar.

Bears, Giraffes and Camels, Oh My!

(Image via camelphotos)

Some animals, such as bears, giraffes, and camels, actually have a different gait and stride than most. They move the same two legs on each side in alternate steps, 1, 3, 2, 4, rather than the 1, 4, 2, 3 pattern of most mammals and nearly all ungulates (such as horses, goats, sheep and bison). It makes for a bit of an awkward pace, but they can generally run very swiftly. Horses, of course, can be taught to walk this way.


Humans are rare among mammals because we are bipedal (we walk upright on our two feet), although sometimes it doesn’t work out too well, such as when we insist on wearing 5″ heels. Bipedalism might feel natural to us, but in fact it’s a specialized adaptation that is rather difficult compared to walking on all fours – no wonder most apes and monkeys avoid it. (It also explains our prevalent lower back pain.) When other simians go bipedal, they still tend to keep their chests close to the ground and bend their knees sharply. Kangaroos and some rodents are bipedal, but they hop rather than walk. We don’t hop because it would consume too many calories. Congratulations, humanity: bipedalism is hard work, and you’re awesome at it! Well, except for giant birds like ostrich, penguins and emus – their wings aren’t nearly strong enough to make flight possible, so they walk and run just like humans. The kiwi doesn’t really have an excuse, but they’re very angry little birds, so don’t ask them why they don’t fly.

I’m In Ur Nature, Flexin My Gunz

(Image via wikimedia)

Whether it’s the brachiation (movement by swinging of arms a la Tarzan) of monkeys and apes or the dragging oneself along by the shoulders like many seals, quite a few animals prefer to use their muscular arms for movement instead of their relatively undeveloped legs. Wings and flippers and fins are all evolutionarily related to arms and hands, of course. If you consider brachiation, flight, and swimming from a broader evolutionary view, most animals rely on their “arms”, from birds to whales to sea lions to fish.

Inchworm…Still Gets Eaten

(Image via dicts)

The adorable inchworm is really the caterpillar of the geometer moth. If you have ever experienced the childlike delight of discovering an inchworm, you know how fun they are to watch. Unfortunately their odd movement catches the eye of many a bird, but enough survive each season to reach adulthood nevertheless.