Flying Snakes: Researchers Learn More About How Serpents Glide

Monday, 10 Mar 2014 11:26 AM

By Michael Mullins

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Flying Snakes, the airborne reptiles that seamlessly glide through the air to avoid predators, are being understood to a greater extent by researchers regarding the way they accomplish their mysterious, elegant sky dive over long distances.

The research was led by a team of American scientists, including engineers Lorena Barba of George Washington University and Jake Socha of Virginia Tech, who analyzed the mid-air motion of green flying snakes in Asian and Southeast Asian tropical forests, according to National Public Radio. The goal of the research, which was published in the journal Physics of Fluids last week, is to eventually use the snake's mid-air technique toward the development of airborne robotics.

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According to the researchers, the flying snake contorts its body in a forward, upward direction immediately before it leaps off a branch. The result is a flatter snake body that becomes more aerodynamic as it glides through the air. While in the air, the snake will move its head left to right, which in turn causes the body to wave through the air, mimicking the motion of a snake would make while swimming through water.

"Little by little, we built a theory about how the snakes are interacting with the air to generate very large lift forces," Barba said on Tuesday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. Aside from observing the snake's motion in the wild, Barba and Socha also simulated snake flight in a computer air-flow simulation.

Barba also employed 3-D printed snake models in tanks filled with flowing water to better grasp the way the snake's body moves over long distances.

"These shapes are very efficient at generating lift when they are positioned at high angles of attack," Barba said in reference to the flying snake's flattened body. "Normally, an airplane wing operates at very low angles."

"If the cross-section was round, there’s no way it would glide at all would be our guess," Barba added.

There are five species of flying snakes, all of which are found between western India and the Indonesian archipelago, generally ranging in length between two and four feet, according to National Geographic. Their diet primarily consists of small prey, such as rodents, birds, lizards and even bats. They are said to pose no threat to humans.

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