Can snakes fly

Snakes gliding

In the rainforests of Southeast Asia, snakes can be seen flying through the air: the poisonous ornamental tree snakes glide elegantly from tree to tree and easily cover distances of several meters. During the flight, the animals spread their bodies in order to keep themselves better in the air. At the same time, a complex snaking movement of the entire body stabilizes its gliding flight, scientists now report in the journal "Nature Physics". The team had analyzed the flight behavior of the snakes in the laboratory and simulated it with a computer model.

Ornate tree snake before the fall

In their experiments, Isaac Yeaton from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, USA, and his colleagues dropped the three-foot-long ornamental tree snakes in a controlled manner and captured the gliding flight with a high-speed camera. The recordings showed that the reptiles not only wiggled back and forth horizontally, but also vertically. For the clearly recognizable movement to the left and right, the researchers determined a frequency of just under two Hertz. The snaking up and down, which has hardly been observed before, happened almost twice as fast - at up to 3.4 Hertz.

In order to understand the influence of this movement on gliding flight, the scientists working with Yeaton simulated the gliding snakes on the computer. This enabled them to recognize that the snaking movements mainly stabilized an imaginary axis along the length of the adder. The vertical and horizontal meandering prevented the sliding and somewhat spread animals from tilting to the left or right. According to the simulations, the tree snakes would fall almost vertically to the ground without any snaking. These results could also provide new impulses for the development of flying robots that can do without wings.