Types of Locomotion in Animals

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  • 0:04 Animals Move
  • 0:56 Movement in Water
  • 1:48 Movement on Land
  • 2:54 Movement Through the Air
  • 3:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Can you imagine not being able to move from one place to another? The ability to move is important to animals for a number of reasons, but how they do it varies. In this lesson we'll discuss the different types of animal locomotion.

Animals Move

If you take a minute to think about your day, there's a lot of movement involved in it. Even if you sit at a desk most of the day, you probably walked to your car, up some stairs, down a hallway, to a refrigerator, to the bathroom, and everywhere else you went.

Most other animals also move as they search for food, evade predators, or tuck in for the night. This movement from one place to another is called locomotion, and there are lots of different types. There are animals that move on land, in the air, in trees, and in the water. Each of these environments requires a different type of locomotion: animals on the ground have to worry about friction, animals in the air have to worry about gravity, and animals underwater have to worry about buoyancy.

Let's take a look at the more common modes of animal locomotion to get a better idea of how animals move. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of every type; there are just too many to cover in this lesson. However, it should be a good jumping off point!

Movement in Water

Animals move in the water in different ways. Some travel by passive locomotion, which is simply letting the environment take you where it will. Animals like jellyfish do this, and it saves them a lot of energy since they don't need to use muscles or limbs to propel themselves.

Other animals swim by moving various body parts back and forth. For example, shrimp swim through the water using tiny appendages called swimmerets. Fish and sharks swim by undulating their tails in a wave-like movement from left to right. Whales and dolphins undulate their tails up and down to cut through the water at high speed.

Why do fish and sharks move their tails left and right while whales and dolphins move their tails up and down? If you look very carefully, the spine of marine mammals swimming looks like the spine of land mammals as they run. That's because marine mammals evolved from land mammals, keeping the same type of body movement even though they are in very different environments!

Movement on Land

Since we're talking about land animals, let's move on to their common types of locomotion, starting on the ground. There are lots of ways that animals move across the land! We walk with two legs, which is called bipedalism (bi for 'two'). Your dog, however, uses all four legs to walk, which is quadrupedalism (quad for 'four'). We already mentioned running, which as you know is more than just fast walking. There's also hopping, like we see with rabbits and frogs, and crawling, like we see with alligators and beetles.

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