It’s a bird, it’s a plane….It’s a flying snake?

Photo by: Alan Couch

Photo by: Alan Couch

Did you know some snakes can fly? Well glide actually, with surprisingly good aerodynamic abilities.

One of the world’s five species of flying snakes is found in southeastern Asia, and is known as the Paradise Tree Snake (Chrysopelea paradise). The snake is an excellent glider and uses a combination of techniques to glide once it has left the tree. First, the snake splays its ribs to flatten its body from round to a more triangular form. Secondly, it ripples its body while airborne like its swimming through the air. This species is found in moist forests, where it glides from tree to tree to a horizontal distance of over 30 metres. They are mildly venomous with rear fangs but can also constrict their prey. Gliding helps the snake escape predators quickly! Guiding also helps these green beauties catch their fast, flying, favorite food…bats, but they will also eat lizards if too many bats fly out of reach.

Researchers led by Jake Socha, an expert in biomechanics at Virginia Tech, has studied the aerodynamics of this species using plastic replicas of the snakes shape when airborne. Socha places the snake model in a water tunnel and uses a laser to track air flow patterns around the model.

“Our expectations going in were that it would not be very good because it does not look like a classically streamlined, airplane-type cross-sectional shape,” Socha said. “What we got were some surprising aerodynamic characteristics. In fact, it was much better than we anticipated,”

These cool creatures shouldn’t be feared. “They are small and they’re effectively harmless,” Socha said. “And to tell you the truth, they’re much more scared of you than you are of them. If you are near them, they’re gliding away from you and not at you.”

Scientists are eager to unlock the secrets of flying snakes, especially considering that a snake shape would seem to be bad for aerodynamics. Socha’s study was funded in part by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which Socha said was interested in the basic science behind what makes these snakes good gliders.

Original article this blog was created from can be seen HERE

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