Flying Snake

Flying Snake can glide through the air from one tree to the next

Flying Snake in south east Asia commonly known as the “Flying Snake.” Not only can it climb trees, but it can then glide through the air from one tree to the next, slithering its body to create lift, achieving distances of 100m – more than any other gliding animal.

Chrysopelea is also known by its common name “flying snake”. It climbs using ridge scales along its belly, pushing against rough bark surface of tree trunks, allowing it to move vertically up a tree. Upon reaching the end of a tree’s branch, the snake continues moving until its tail dangles from the branch’s end. It then makes a J-shape bend, leans forward to select the level of inclination it wishes to use to control its flight path, as well as selecting a desired landing area. Once it decides on a destination, it propels itself by thrusting its body up and away from the tree, sucking in its stomach[clarification needed stomach or belly?] and flaring out its ribs to turn its body in a “pseudo concave wing”, all the while making a continual serpentine motion of lateral undulation parallel to the ground to stabilise its direction in midair in order to land safely.

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The combination of sucking in its stomach and making a motion of lateral undulation in the air makes it possible for the snake to glide in the air, where it also manages to save energy compared to travel on the ground and dodge earth-bound predators. The concave wing that a snake creates in sucking in its stomach flattens its body to up to twice its width from the back of the head to the anal vent, which is close to the end of the snake’s tail, causes the cross section of the snake’s body to resemble the cross section of a frisbee or flying disc. When a flying disc spins in the air, the designed cross sectional concavity causes increased air pressure under the centre of the disc, causing lift for the disc to fly. A snake continuously moves in lateral undulation to create the same effect of increased air pressure underneath its arched body to glide. Flying snakes are able to glide better than flying squirrels and other gliding animals, despite the lack of limbs, wings, or any other wing-like projections, gliding through the forest and jungle it inhabits with the distance being as great as 100 m. Their destination is mostly predicted by ballistics; however, they can exercise some in-flight attitude control by “slithering” in the air.

Their ability to glide has been an object of interest for physicists and the United States Department of Defense in recent years, and studies continue to be made on what other, more subtle, factors contribute to their flight. According to recent research conducted by the University of Chicago, scientists discovered a correlation between size and gliding ability, in which smaller flying snakes were able to glide longer distances horizontally. According to a research performed by Professor Jake Socha at Virginia Tech University, these snakes can change the shape of their body in order to produce aerodynamic forces so they can glide in the air. Scientists are hopeful that this research will lead to design robots which can glide in the air from one place to another.

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