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Researchers reveal secrets of flying snakes

such as flying squirrels or lizards or gliding birds, maintain a constant wing structure, unlike these flying snakes that whip their bodies through the air. "Although all of these other animals may make small adjustments while gliding, none are as dramatic, rhythmic and dynamic as the flying snake," Socha said.

During his first study, published in Nature in August 2002, Socha described a few aerodynamic features of the paradise tree snake -- one of five snake species that are purported to "fly." He videotaped and photographed various snakes taking off from a 33-foot-high tower in an open field at the Singapore Zoological Gardens. He positioned two video cameras to record in stereo, enabling the 3-D reconstruction of the head, midpoint and vent coordinates of the snake throughout its trajectory.

Socha found that the snake uses its ribs to change its body shape; it flattens from head to vent. The snake takes control of its flight by undulating through the air in a distinctive S-shape as if swimming ?moving the tail up and down and side-to-side. While gliding, these snakes make turns up to 90 degrees and always seemed to land without injury.

The researchers now are looking more closely at the aerodynamic issues. They plan to use physical and computer models to study the more complex kinematics of these gliders.

To collect and study these snakes, Socha traveled to Singapore twice and Thailand once with grants from National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration.

Most flying snakes grow 3 to 4 feet long and live in the trees in the lowland tropical rainforests of South and Southeast Asia. Their temperament varies from species to species, and from individual to individual, but all five species of flying snakes are in the Colubridae family and officially are classified as harmless.

Flying snakes secrete mild venom that is only dangerous to their small prey. They are diurnal and opistoglyphous, or rear-fanged. These
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Source:University of Chicago


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