Pentagon Wants Secret of Flying Snakes
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Condensed by Native Village
Look, up in the sky, it's a bird, it's a
plane, it's ... a snake???
A genus of tree-dwelling snakes called Chrysopelea can
launch themselves into the air and glide long distances
without wings. Now the Defense Department wants to
know how. They are funding research by Virginia
Tech biologist John Socha
who has studied and filmed the snakes in Asia.
"Of any terrestrial animal glider,
snakes exhibit the greatest active movements, which may
affect their trajectory dynamics," Socha and his
researchers wrote. "We launched 'flying'
snakes from a 15-meter tower and recorded the mid-to-end
portion of trajectories with four video cameras to
reconstruct the snakes' body position."
In the videos, the reptiles are seen undulating side to
side in a slithering
"The snake is very active in the air, and you can kind
of envision it as having multiple segments that become
multiple wings," Socha said. "The leading edge becomes
the trailer, and then the trailer becomes the leading
As the snakes travel from tree to tree or directly to the
ground, they somehow twist and flatten their bodies into
an S-shape. Socha suggests this helps them stay aloft
before they land nearly 800 feet away.
"Basically ... they become one long wing," he said.
snakes' mysteries is how the reptiles are able to turn
while in the air. The snakes begin their flight by
leaping off the trees, dropping to gain speed and then undulating their
bodies to keep them flying.
Should we expect slithering, snake-like military
aircraft in the near future? Socha said the Defense
Department is more
"interested in it from a basic science view, with
potential applications a secondary consideration."
He is not concerned with any potential military. "This
is amazingly interesting and curious, and it's not at
all clear how it works or how it could have evolved,"
"I'm just trying to answer these basic questions."