Video: See snakes fly

Virginia Tech researchers are learning how the reptiles are able to glide so gracefully to the ground

Nov 24, 2010
Jef Akst
Many of the arboreal snakes of Asia are renowned for their ability to glide impressive distances from high tree branches of the jungle. But how do they do it?
The flying snake Chrysopelea paradise
Image: Copyright Jake Socha
New video footage provides some of the answers: Biomechanist linkurl:Jake Socha; of Virginia Tech and his colleagues launched one such species of "flying'' snakes, Chrysopelea paradise, from a 15-meter tall tower, then videotaped and analyzed the snakes' exact body positions throughout their flights. They also developed a gliding model to further explore the physical forces at play during the snakes' flights.The snakes are known to flatten their bodies to aid the descent, and Socha's new results have finally revealed exactly how the snake is positioned during its flight -- the head is angled up and the rest of the body is angled back and down, relative to the glide path, Socha explained. "We can now take that information and start making good precise physical and computational models to study the animal's aerodynamics," he told The Scientist."Our work contributes to this basic understanding of this really unusual way of gliding flight," Socha said. "There's nothing else that does anything close to this -- in the engineering world or the biological world."Socha presented his research at the Fluid Dynamics Meeting in Long Beach, Calif., yesterday and today (November 24) published a paper in a special edition of linkurl:Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.; The issue, entitled Bioinspired Flight, includes eight other studies of flying or gliding organisms, including geckoes, seagulls, insects and floating maple seeds, with the aim of improving the design of man-made air vehicles."Maybe you could borrow some principles from the snake and make a better small flyer," Socha suggested.
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