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
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)
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

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs