Researchers unravel mystery behind 'flying' snake that leaps between trees

Scientists have taken a big step forward in figuring out how some snakes are able to leap from tree to tree without ever touching the ground.

In a study, researchers from Virginia Tech used 23 high-speed cameras to make what they say is the first continuous, anatomically accurate 3-D model of the paradise tree snake in the air. They observed more than 130 live snake glides, marking the animals with infrared-reflective tape that allowed them to record specific data about how the animals' bodies moved in flight.

Their findings confirmed their hypothesis that the snakes, which around found in jungles in Southeast Asia, make an undulating motion that stabilizes them while they glide, allowing them to travel further.

Virginia Tech described the process in a news release: "First, the snake jumps, usually by curving its body into a 'J-loop' and springing up and out. As it launches, the snake reconfigures its shape, its muscles shifting to flatten its body out everywhere but the tail. The body becomes a 'morphing wing' that produces lift and drag forces when air flows over it, as it accelerates downward under gravity."

While they're conversationally known as flying snakes, the animals don't "fly" in a traditional sense because they can't gain altitude, according to National Geographic: "They're gliders, using the speed of free fall and contortions of their bodies to catch the air and generate lift."

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