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In Images: A Flying Snake of Southeast Asia

The paradise tree snake in mid-glide. © Jake Socha

Flying snakes

flying snake

(Image credit: Jake Socha)

The snake Chrysopelea paradisi, lives in Southeast Asia and glides between tree branches. [Read: Flying Snake Morphs Into UFO Shape to Glide]

High flyers

flying snake

(Image credit: Jake Socha)

The snake's gliding abilities are no match for a bird's, but they compare pretty well to those of flying squirrels, ants and lizards.

Mystery maneuver

flying snake in a tree

(Image credit: Jake Socha)

To get airborne, the snakes grasp a tree branch with their tail, then launch upwards.

Shape changes

(Image credit: Jake Socha, Virginia Tech.)

They also seem to curl up and splay their ribs out to flatten their bodies, while undulating in the air.

In Paradise

A flying paradise tree snake, Chrysopelea paradisi.

(Image credit: Jake Socha)

A flying paradise tree snake, Chrysopelea paradisi.

UFO Shape

flying snake cross section

(Image credit: Jake Socha)

Looked at in cross section, their flattened bodies resemble UFOs or rounded triangles, a shape that isn't typically found in engineered or natural flying objects.

Aerodynamic properties

flying snake 3-d model

(Image credit: Jake Socha)

To see why the snakes flattened out, researchers at Virginia Tech made a 3-D model of the snake and put it into a flow chamber. The shape was surprisingly aerodynamic.

Next question

flying snake

(Image credit: Jake Socha)

Now, the researchers need to find out why the snake undulates as it glides.

Tia Ghose
Tia has interned at Science News, Wired.com, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and has written for the Center for Investigative Reporting, Scientific American, and ScienceNow. She has a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California Santa Cruz.