Whether they're made of scales, feathers or skin, every flap of an animal's wings is a testament to nature's miraculous defiance of gravity.
"Flight is amazing," says Kevin Calhoon, the Tennessee Aquarium's curator of forests. "When I think of flight, I think about how much we don't understand about how it works. I think about migration. I think about the fact that birds can not only fly, but can be so maneuverable in the air. It's just amazing."
Thanks to innovative camera work and eye-popping slow-motion scenes, audiences will see nature's fliers in a whole new way when "Conquest of the Skies 3D" arrives at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater, 201 Chestnut St., on Friday, Dec. 29.
In "Conquest of the Skies 3D," the Emmy- and BAFTA award-winning team at Atlantic Productions explores the gamut of nature's approaches to flight, from the improbable takeoff of the enormous Atlas beetle to the leaping glides of harlequin flying frogs.
Audiences will hunt at the wingtips of wrinkle-lipped free-tailed bats as they snatch insects from the night skies of Borneo. They'll fly in formation with whooper swans touching down at watery wintering sites in Scotland. One spectacular slow-motion sequence even puts the brakes on the lightning strokes of a hummingbird's wings, showing how these tiny avians move through the air with such agility.
Viewers also will take a trip back through time to see the earliest animals that soared. Through the magic of computer-generated imagery, audiences will watch pterosaurs and other winged reptiles take wing once more.
"We all dream of flying," Calhoon says. "Today, with GoPros and drones, we see a lot of views from the air. But to me, it's what birds can do with those wings that's special, that they can put so much distance behind them on migrations. That's what impresses me."
"Conquest of the Skies 3D" will be shown daily at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater at noon, 2 and 4 p.m. with additional 6 p.m. screenings on Fridays and Saturdays.
Tickets are $11.95 adults, $9.95 children ages 3-12. Purchase tickets or an IMAX Club Pass at tnaqua.org/imax.
Did you know?
› A blowfly can beat its wings 50 times faster than the human eye can blink
› The Griffon Vulture’s 8-foot wingspan allows it to soar on updrafts for hours without needing to flap them.
› The extinct Quetzalcoatlus was a Pterosaur (“winged lizard”) with a wingspan of almost 36 feet, as long as a school bus.
› Depending on their size, hummingbirds beat their wings from 10 to 80 times a second while hovering.
› It takes six generations for Painted Lady butterflies to complete the 9,000-mile, round trip between Africa and Northern Europe, one of the longest migrations of any insect.
› Peregrine falcons are one of the fastest animals on the planet, capable of reaching speeds of 200 mph while diving.