No Wings, No Problem -- Flying Snakes

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While most of us enjoy any kind of aeronautical spectacle, there's one occurring daily in the rainforests of South and Southeast Asia that many of us could happily avoid. Researchers from the University of Chicago are studying just how "flying snakes" manage to turn themselves into reasonably credible gliders. Their work is featured this month in the Journal of Experimental Biology. "Despite their lack of wing-like appendages, flying snakes are skilled aerial locomoters," said Dr. Jake Socha, who has authored a paper on the strange creatures. During eight years of research, Socha found that the paradise tree snake, one of five flying varieties, actually flattens itself from head to tail to make it more aerodynamic. But perhaps the most distinctive feature of snake flight is the fact that they undulate rapidly as they glide through the air. Socha believes that's to keep them stable during the glide. They can change direction up to 90 degrees in flight and always seem to land safely, Socha says. And if, for some reason, you encounter one of these things, don't worry, they're considered harmless. The small amount of venom they can secrete is only enough to disable their prey, assuming it doesn't die of fright.