Dear Readers, by the tenth day of Christmas I would probably have gone to a hotel, as the house would be full to the gunnels with milkmaids, over-excited dancing ladies and now a bunch of lords bouncing about. I’m fairly sure that the floorboards couldn’t stand it! But there is something about leaping which is so exuberant that it’s difficult to be too grumpy. According to my dictionary, ‘to leap’ means ‘jump or spring a long way, to a great height, or with great force’.
In the animal kingdom, lots of animals leap, for a variety of reasons. I was once in a conifer forest close to the Arvon writing centre at Moniack Mhor in Scotland when I spotted a roe deer browsing in the bracken. I stopped stock still and watched her for a few minutes as she delicately plucked the tenderest shoots. Then the breeze must have changed direction, as she suddenly raised her head, looked straight at me and in a split second had leapt into the air, easily clearing the fence that was next to her, and had bounded off into the undergrowth. The ability to leap is a clear advantage to a prey animal, but also to a predator – in fact, an uncommon collective noun for a group of leopards is a ‘leap’ (though as leopards are largely solitary creatures, there won’t be many occasions to use it).
Leaping can also be a big part of a mating display. It shows that an animal is fit and bold, both desirable attributes. If you haven’t seen this film of Jackson’s widowbirds displaying in East Africa (taken from Planet Earth and narrated by the incomparable David Attenborough), treat yourself to a look.
And finally, some animals have evolved in such a way that all they can do is leap. But what an efficient way this can be to get around! The tendons and muscles of kangaroos all contribute to an extremely low-energy way to get about – a kangaroo bouncing along at about 15 km/h can keep this up for much longer than a similarly-sized animal that runs. Some small animals, such as the jerboas of the desert regions of North Africa and the Middle East, can leap along at up to 15 mph, a terrific speed for such a diminutive creature. Have a look at the film below, from ‘Wild Arabia’. Spoiler alert: don’t worry too much about the jerboa 🙂
There is another question in my mind though. Do animals, especially young ones, sometimes leap for sheer joy, and because they can? I can rationalise all the jumping about that lambs do as play, and as practice for their adult lives, but in my heart I suspect it’s because it’s spring, and there’s plenty to eat and nothing to be afraid of (that they know about anyway). And good luck to them! We should all do a bit more leaping (if our joints are up to it).
And so, for today’s question – can you identify these leaping animals?
Widowbird photo by Jayanth Sharma, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo 1 by RadioFan at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo 2 by Aske Holst from https://www.flickr.com/photos/askeholst/4578973351
Photo 3 by Steve Slater, taken from https://www.flickr.com/photos/wildlife_encounters/8023898732
Photo 4 by Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo 5 by Robin Agarwal from https://www.flickr.com/photos/30314434@N06/51405139143
Photo 6 by Michael Sale, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelsale/10245058886