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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs