Could a human swing through the jungle on vines?

Monday, October 24th, 2005

The Straight Dope answers the question, Could a human swing through the jungle on vines?:

As depicted in the Tarzan movies, the vines are attached at the top, free-swinging at the bottom. In reality, lianas are attached at the bottom (they’re plants, with roots in the ground) and … well, maybe not free-swinging, but not reliably anchored at the top. Yank on a liana and one of two things is going to happen: nothing, because the top is entwined in the tree canopy, in which case, being secured at both ends, the thing won’t let you do much swinging — at best you’ll be able to sway back and forth; or it falls on top of you in a heap.

Tarzan’s creator didn’t create the vine-swinging myth though:

Don’t blame Edgar Rice Burroughs for steering the public wrong, though. Here’s his description of how a young Tarzan gets around from the first book, Tarzan of the Apes (1914):
He could spring twenty feet across space at the dizzy heights of the forest top, and grasp with unerring precision, and without apparent jar, a limb waving wildly in the path of an approaching tornado. He could drop twenty feet at a stretch from limb to limb in rapid descent to the ground, or he could gain the utmost pinnacle of the loftiest tropical giant with the ease and swiftness of a squirrel. Though but ten years old, he was fully as strong as the average man of thirty…. And day by day his strength was increasing.

In short, Tarzan propels himself the same way most arboreal primates do, by swinging, climbing, and leaping among the branches. Vines play no special role in this process.

(Hat tip to GeekPress.)

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