Organisms at high altitude

Organisms at high altitude

Organisms can exist at high altitude in a habitat, while flying or gliding, or through man-made systems. Many animals have adapted to high altitude life and some have evolved to cope well with the problems of an environment with a reduced level of oxygen.



Some animals inhabit high altitude areas of the planet. Yaks live in the Himalayas at heights of up to 19,000ft (6,000m), and actually struggle to survive in lower elevations. Euophrys omnisuperstes is a small jumping spider that lives at heights of up to 6,700m (22,000 feet) on Mount Everest, making it possibly the highest known permanent resident on earth.

Flying and gliding

The highest flying birds are Rüppell's Vultures, Bar-headed Geese, Whooper Swans and Bar-tailed Godwits, all of which have flown more than 8 km above sea level. In 2008 a colony of bumble bees were discovered on Mount Everest at more than 5,600 metres above sea level, the highest known altitude for an insect. In subsequent tests some of the bees were still able to fly in a flight chamber which recreated the thinner air of 9,000 metres.[1]


Ballooning is a term used for the mechanical kiting[2][3] that many spiders, especially small species,[4] as well as certain mites and some caterpillars use to disperse through the air. Some spiders have been detected in atmospheric data balloons collecting air samples at slightly less than 5 km (16000 ft) above sea level.[5] It is the most common way for spiders to invade isolated islands and mountaintops.[6][7]

Space flight

Before human spaceflight, several animals were launched into space, including numerous monkeys, so that scientists could investigate the biological effects of space travel. The United States launched flights containing primate cargo primarily between 1948-1961 with one flight in 1969 and one in 1985. France launched two monkey-carrying flights in 1967. The Soviet Union and Russia launched monkeys between 1983 and 1996.

During the 1950s and 1960s the Soviet space program used a number of dogs for sub-orbital and orbital space flights. Most survived and the few that died were lost mostly through technical failures.

Later, animals and other organisms were also flown to investigate various biological processes and the effects microgravity and spaceflight might have on them. Bioastronautics is an area of bioengineering research which spans the study and support of life in space. Certain functions of organisms are mediated by gravity, such as gravitropism in plant roots, while metabolic energy normally expended in overcoming the force of gravity remains available for other functions. This may take the form of accelerated growth.

See also


  1. ^ Johnston, Ian. Bumblebees set new insect record for high-altitude flying at The Independent. Published 1 June 2008. Accessed 3 August 2011.
  2. ^ Flying Spiders over Texas! Coast to Coast. Chad B., Texas State University Undergrad: He correctly describes the mechanical kiting of spider "ballooning".
  3. ^ Artificial and Natural Flight By Hiram Stevens Maxim. Chapter on "Flying Kites", the "Balloon Spider" is correctly seen as mechanical kiting.
  4. ^ Valerio, C.E. (1977). "Population structure in the spider Achaearranea Tepidariorum (Aranae, Theridiidae)". The Journal of Arachnology 3: 185–190. Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  5. ^ VanDyk, J.K. (2002-2009). "Entomology 201 - Introduction to insects". Department of Entomology, Iowa State University. Retrieved 18 July 2009. 
  6. ^ Hormiga, G. (2002). "Orsonwells, a new genus of giant linyphild spiders (Araneae) from the Hawaiian Islands". Invertebrate Systamatics 16 (3): 369–448. doi:10.1071/IT01026. Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  7. ^ Bilsing, S.W. (May 1920). "Quantitative studies in the food of spiders". The Ohio Journal of Science 20 (7): 215–260. Retrieved 2009-07-18. 

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