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

Israelis Quietly Expand Enclave in Palestinian District of Jerusalem

Estimated 500 settlers, armed or protected by paramilitary police, live in Silwan among 50,000 Palestinians More

Video US, Iran Face Similar Challenges in Syrian Fight Against IS

Both Washington, Tehran back fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq -- but in Syria they support opposing sides in country’s civil war More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles 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.
China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Lawi
X
William Ide
October 20, 2014 10:23 AM
China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Nigeria Agrees to Cease-Fire With Boko Haram

Islamist militant group Boko Haram and the Nigerian government have agreed to a cease-fire. The Nigerian government issued an order Friday, telling all military chiefs "to comply with the cease-fire agreement in all theaters of operations. Why now and the significance of the agreement are questions on some people’s minds. VOA's Mariama Diallo reports.
Video

Video Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

The offensive by Islamic State militants against the northern Syrian city of Kobani has caused hundreds of thousands of residents to flee to Turkey. They receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from the town of Suruc a few kilometers from the border.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.

All About America

AppleAndroid