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The mystery of how flying snakes move is solved by scientists



Flying snakes are able to undulate their bodies as they glide through the air and those unique movements allow them to take flight, scientists discovered.

These snakes, like Chrysopelea paradisi, also known as the paradisiac tree snake, tend to reside among the trees of South and Southeast Asia. While up there, they move along the branches of the trees and sometimes, to reach another tree, they launch themselves into the air and slide down into a corner.

For their research published in the journal Nature Physics, Virginia Tech scientists put motion capture tags on seven snakes and filmed them with high-speed cameras as snakes flew through a four-story theater.

Jack Socha, a professor in Virginia Tech̵

7;s biomedical and mechanical engineering department, who has studied these snakes for more than 20 years, worked with his colleagues to build a 3D model after measuring more than 100 live snake glides.

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The snake of the tree of paradise half-gliding.

The snake of the tree of paradise half-gliding.
(Photo by Jake Socha)

Their models influence the frequencies of wavy waves, their direction, the forces acting on the body and the distribution of mass. With it, the researchers conducted virtual experiments to study aerial ripple.

“In all these years, I think I’ve seen almost a thousand glides,” Socha said in a note. “It’s still great to see it every time. Seeing it in person, there is something slightly different. It’s still shocking. What exactly is this animal doing? Being able to answer the questions I’ve had since I was a graduate student, many, many years later, it is incredibly satisfying. “

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In a series of experiments that aimed to discern why the ripple was part of each glide, they simulated what would have happened if it wasn’t. They did it by turning it off. When their virtual snake was unable to wave in the air, his body would fall.

That test, combined with simulated glides that kept the movement going, confirmed their hypothesis: aerial ripple improves rotational stability in flying snakes.

“This work shows that aerial ripple in snakes performs a different function than the known uses of ripple in other animals and suggests a new control model for dynamic flying robots,” conclude the scientists in the summary of their article.


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