Many primates are natural acrobats, like the tree-hopping gibbon, the swinging orangutan, and even some humans (hello, Cirque du Soleil!)
But the animal kingdom is full of unsung aerialists that perform amazing airborne feats—sometimes with no feets at all.
Many rays in the Mobula genus, which dwell in tropical oceans, have graceful movements. Manta rays are particularly famous for their underwater ballets, which tourists can witness in Hawaii.
A smoothtail ray, Mobula thurstoni, soars above the surface of the Sea of Cortez, Mexico.
PHOTOGRAPH BY NATURE PICTURE LIBRARY, ALAMY
Eagle rays will mysteriously launch themselves spectacularly out of the sea, looking for all the world like they're trying to fly.
The fish may have "a lemon shark chasing after them," notes George Burgess, an ichthyologist at the Florida Natural History Museum, but they likely leap a lot for practice—the more adept they get at leaping, the more likely they’ll escape future predators.
It could also be that "females are more impressed with the big boys that can jump farther and longer and make a bigger splash," Burgess says—though he adds females jump, too.
MANTA RAY 'BRUNCH': LIKE US, THEY'RE SOCIAL EATERS- Aerial footage captured a unique view of reef manta rays feeding together off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.
The world's 900 species of click beetles have a unique way righting themselves when they end up flat on their backs.
When threatened, the insect will contract a hinge that holds together two segments of its body, says Gal Ribak of Tel-Aviv University's Biomechanics of Animal Locomotion Laboratory.
Releasing that elastic energy causes an audible click and accelerates the beetles into the air at 380 times the force of gravity—leaving predators mystified.
Click beetles don't stick the landing, though. In a 2011 study, Ribak found that the insect has little control of where it ends up after its aerial explosion.
The Moroccan denizen named the flic flac spider shares a name with a gymnastics move, rearing up on its back legs and cartwheeling away from predators—even uphill.
Jo-Anne Sewlal, arachnologist at the University of the West Indies, isn't surprised that the desert spider evolved this means of defence.
For one, they have a lot of space for flipping: Their home "is just sand; the spider does not have to negotiate obstacles like twigs or stones,” she says.
What's more, the flic flac—like all spiders in the Sparassidae family—have strong leg muscles due to their role as "active hunters, not relying on traps like webs to catch their prey."
A daddy longlegs, Mesabolivar aurantiacus, lives in the buttress roots of trees in the forests of Trinidad. When disturbed it will "whirl its body in a wide circle at such a speed it looks like a blur to the human eyes," Sewlal says.
All four species of nuthatches, native to North America and parts of Central America, have the unique habit of walking down tree trunks thanks to their large feet and narrow claws, which enable them to grip onto tiny crevasses in the bark.
A white-breasted nuthatch creeps down a tree.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GEORGE GRALL, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
These small birds are not only acrobatic—they're handy. Nuthatches use tools, including pine needles, twigs, and pieces of bark to poke around for insect prey.
Sometimes it's the predator that makes the leap of faith.
When chasing after prey, the mako—the world's fastest shark species—will erupt from the ocean and "do pirouettes in the air," says shark expert Burgess.
WHAT MAKES MAKO SHARKS THE FASTEST SHARKS IN THE OCEAN? (FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION)
Shortfin makos are considered the fastest sharks over short distances. See how hard it is race one in the water.
Black tips and coastal spinner sharks, which live in tropical and subtropical waters, also leap and spin like figure skaters while airborne. How come?
"Because they can," Burgess says.
LEAD IMAGE: An eastern eyed click beetle rests on a leaf in the eastern United States. PHOTOGRAPH BY SKIP MOODY, ALAMY