BLACKSBURG, Va. — A new study reveals that not only are flying snakes wiggling through the air with a purpose, they are also doing something interesting with the shape of their bodies.
New research published in the journal Nature Physics is helping researchers understand what happens when flying snakes take to the air. While the term “flying” is a bit of a misnomer because the snake doesn’t gain altitude in the jumps, researchers now know that the snake is intentionally gliding.
Isaac Yeaton, the lead author of the study, found that the mechanics of flight have to do with two main actions made by the snake. The first is the obvious, wiggling action similar to when a snake is moving on the ground or in water. The second is less obvious and involves the shape of the body changing.
A cross section of a snake is normally round, but researchers found that when a flying snake takes flight, the body becomes somewhat triangular, creating a flat portion underneath to act like a wing or parachute, according to The New York Times.
The other action, wiggling in midair, helps stabilize the snake so they remain on the same plain when gliding.
“Other animals undulate for propulsion. We show that flying snakes undulate for stability,” researcher Isaac Yeaton, told The New York Times.
The research was conducted at Virginia Tech using high-speed cameras capturing a half-dozen snakes “flying” from a tower to a simulated tree. The snakes were marked with infrared reflective tape. The footage was used to create 3-D models of the snakes in flight from every angle.
The conclusion was that the snakes wiggling in midair was not accidental. The snakes were using that motion along with body changes to fly to specific points in another tree.
Over 150 flights were conducted in the study. Dr. Socha, professor of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics at Virginia Tech, hopes that understanding the of mechanics of flight might help with the development of robots in search and rescue.
Despite this research, scientists still don’t know why flying snakes leap from tree to tree, according to National Geographic.
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