News / Science & Technology

Ophidiophobics Beware: Flying Snakes Have Great Aerodynamics

The paradise tree snake (Chrysopelea paradisi) taking to the air. This species glides well, and can maneuver in the air. Credit: Jake Socha
The paradise tree snake (Chrysopelea paradisi) taking to the air. This species glides well, and can maneuver in the air. Credit: Jake Socha
Reuters
This may be the last thing that anyone with a touch of ophidiophobia — fear of snakes — would want to hear: flying snakes have surprisingly good aerodynamic qualities.
 
Scientists studying the amazing gliding proficiency of an Asian species known as the paradise tree snake say it does two things as it goes airborne. It splays its ribs in order to flatten its profile from round into a more triangular form, and it undulates while airborne — sort of swimming through the air.
 
Researchers led by Jake Socha, an expert in biomechanics at Virginia Tech, replicated in a plastic model the shape the snake assumes while airborne, and tested it to evaluate its aerodynamic qualities.
 
They placed the snake model in a water tunnel and used a laser to track 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 in a telephone interview on Thursday.
 
“What we got were some surprising aerodynamic characteristics. In fact, it was much better than we anticipated,” Socha added.
 
The paradise tree snake is one of the world's five species of flying snakes, all from the genus Chrysopelea. To be precise, they are gliders, not actual flyers like birds and bats that achieve powered flight.
 
Paradise Tree Snake, Chrysopelea paradisi (Credit: Jake Socha)Paradise Tree Snake, Chrysopelea paradisi (Credit: Jake Socha)
x
Paradise Tree Snake, Chrysopelea paradisi (Credit: Jake Socha)
Paradise Tree Snake, Chrysopelea paradisi (Credit: Jake Socha)
The mildly venomous snake — green and black with occasional touches of red and orange — has a diameter roughly equal to a human finger and is up to three feet (one meter) long. It lives in rainforests in Southeast Asia and South Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.
 
The snake takes to the air from trees, and is capable of gliding about 100 feet (30 meters). Socha said its gliding ability enables the snake to escape trouble and to get from one place to the next efficiently. He doubted that the creature is taking to the air in order to spot prey like lizards below.
 
“You can glide to a tree 30 meters away much more quickly than if you had to slither down the tree and then slither across the forest floor and then climb back up that tree,” said Socha, whose research was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

 

This snake is one of numerous animals around the world that can glide through the air. Six types of mammals are gliders, including flying squirrels and an arboreal critter called the colugo. Some lizards also glide, including the Draco lizard and some geckos.
 
There are even gliding frogs and gliding wingless ants, as well as types of flying fish and even gliding squid.
 
Scientists are eager to unlock the secrets of flying snakes, especially considering that a snake shape would seem to be bad for aerodynamics. This study was funded in part by the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which Socha said was interested in the basic science behind what makes the snakes good gliders.
 
To people with ophidiophobia, the idea of a flying snake may be nightmarish. But Socha offered some reassuring thoughts.
 
“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.”

You can see more Socha lab research videos on YouTube.

You May Like

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Shinoda Marikoh from: Nakamenguro, TKO
January 31, 2014 9:23 PM
Is it gliding or falling?
When you have some forward velocity, you can touch down at further place, not falling down just below.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid