Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

University Of Chicago Researchers Reveal Secrets Of Snake Flight

Date:
May 13, 2005
Source:
University Of Chicago Medical Center
Summary:
On the cover of the May 15, 2005, issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology, University of Chicago researchers described the effects of size and behavior of flying snakes, and found that the smaller animals were better gliders.

Chrysopelea paradisi, commonly known as the paradise tree snake. (Copyright Jake Socha / Courtesy of University Of Chicago Medical Center)

It seems size does matters after all. But for flying snakes, smaller is better, according to University of Chicago researchers.

In the May 15, 2005, issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology (http://jeb.biologists.org/content/vol208/issue10/), scientists described the effects of size and behavior of flying snakes, and found that the smaller animals were better gliders.

"Despite their lack of wing-like appendages, flying snakes are skilled aerial locomotors," said lead scientist and author Jake Socha, Ph.D., who has been studying these unique creatures for the past eight years.

With the help of colleagues Michael LaBarbera, professor of organismal biology and anatomy at Chicago, and Tony O'Dempsey, an expert in photogrammetry, Socha used 3-D flight information from the synchronized recordings of two video cameras to digitally reconstruct the trajectories, speed and body postures of Chrysopelea paradisi, or paradise tree snake, and Chrysopelea ornata, golden tree snake.

In this study, Socha, who also is a biologist at Argonne National Laboratory, found that paradise tree snakes are true gliders, traveling further horizontally than dropping vertically. The best flight Socha recorded traveled 13 degrees from the horizon at the end of its trajectory.

Socha correlated 19 performance variables, such as glide angle and horizontal speed, of the snake's flight with 16 size and behavior variables, such as mass and snout-vent length, of the animal's body. He found that body length and wave amplitude are important predictors of flight behavior, but wave frequency was not.

"These high-amplitude undulations visually dominate the behavior, yet their frequency is unrelated to the snake's glide performance," Socha said.

So why do they undulate? Socha and LaBarbera suggest it's for stability. Just as a person who makes small balancing adjustments while walking on a beam, a flying snake might continuously make adjustments to maintain controlled flight.

All other gliders, 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 back teeth measure only 2 to 3 millimeters long and each has a small groove that runs along the fang's outer edge, where the venom drips down and into the prey. Whether or not the snake's choice of prey is related to its gliding ability is unknown.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Chicago Medical Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Chicago Medical Center. "University Of Chicago Researchers Reveal Secrets Of Snake Flight." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 May 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/05/050512201549.htm>.
University Of Chicago Medical Center. (2005, May 13). University Of Chicago Researchers Reveal Secrets Of Snake Flight. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/05/050512201549.htm
University Of Chicago Medical Center. "University Of Chicago Researchers Reveal Secrets Of Snake Flight." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/05/050512201549.htm (accessed September 1, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Monday, September 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) A new study suggests 100 percent of adult humans (those over 18 years of age) have Demodex mites living in their faces. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Washington Wildlife Center Goes Nuts Over Baby Squirrels

Washington Wildlife Center Goes Nuts Over Baby Squirrels

Reuters - US Online Video (Aug. 30, 2014) An animal rescue in Washington state receives an influx of orphaned squirrels, keeping workers busy as they nurse them back to health. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Experimental Ebola Drug ZMapp Cures Lab Monkeys Of Disease

Experimental Ebola Drug ZMapp Cures Lab Monkeys Of Disease

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) In a new study, a promising experimental treatment for Ebola managed to cure a group of infected macaque monkeys. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) State health officials say testing has confirmed the presence of a killer amoeba in a water system serving three St. John the Baptist Parish towns. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins