Science

Learning to move in the real world

Summary

Comparative research reveals extraordinary animal athleticism—mites lift >1000 times their body weight, mantis shrimp strike their prey with the force of a bullet, and peregrine falcons dive toward prey at 335 mph (539.13 km/hour) (1). Even human babies travel the distance of eight football fields per hour during free play (2). However, movement in the real world is not about being the strongest, fastest, or most active. Rather, effective action is a moment-to-moment process of matching the current status of the body to features of the environment (3). Locomotion—like other actions—must be tailored to local conditions. On page 697 of this issue, Hunt et al. (4) provide an elegant demonstration of the creativity of functional movement, showing that wild squirrels tune their leaps to branch bendiness and target distance, even inventing ingenious maneuvers when required.

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