Zoologger: Flying snake gets lift from UFO cross section
By Sandrine Ceurstemont
Why crawl when you can fly? While their relatives slither on the ground, a few snakes take to the air, gliding from tree to tree. The most skilled of them all is the paradise tree snake, and we may finally have worked out why. It gets an aerodynamic lift by shifting its body into an unconventional, yet strangely familiar, form.
There are five species of flying snake, all native to south-east Asia. The five are reasonably average in the looks department – at least, until they begin to move. These snakes slither up trees before launching themselves from branches high in the canopy, undulating their bodies from side to side as they glide elegantly – at speeds of about 10 metres per second – to their destination.
Most studies into the snakes' gliding skills have focused on these wave-like body undulations, but Jake Socha of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and his colleagues decided to focus on another factor.
It is clear that, once airborne, the snakes flatten their cylindrical bodies by splaying out their ribs. Slice a snake open, and the cross-sectional shape the body makes is reminiscent of a UFO from the classic Space Invaders arcade game. It's not a shape conventionally regarded as aerodynamic – but the biologists decided to investigate its properties anyway. . . .
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