Why snakes don’t need wings to fly

Last Updated: Tuesday, November 23, 2010 - 19:16

Washington: Scientists have discovered that some species of snake can stay airborne for up to 79 feet.

The acrobatic arboreal snakes, all in the genus Chrysopelea, use what`s known as gliding flight to sail from tree to tree in their Southeast and South Asia habitats.

The research might lead to improved micro-air vehicles, small unmanned and often autonomous flying machines that mimic these actions.

"The snake isn`t defying gravity or doing something out of the blue," Discovery News quoted project leader Jake Socha, a Virginia Tech biologist, as saying.

"It`s the magnitude of the forces that are somewhat surprising. Given that this is a snake, and its cross-sectional body shape is more like a blunt shape than a typical streamlined wing, we wouldn`t have expected such good aerodynamic performance," he added.

The team developed a mathematical model and found that the “snake creates lift using a combination of its flattened cross-sectional shape and the angle that it takes to the oncoming airflow, known as the angle of attack."

To take off from a tree branch, for example, these snakes will drop the front of their bodies to create a "J"-shaped loop before jumping and accelerating upwards. That motion hurls the snake into the air.

But they don’t fall back on the ground immediately. Instead, "the snake is pushed upward -- even though it is moving downward -- because the upward component of the aerodynamic force is greater than the snake`s weight," Socha said.

"But our modeling suggests that the effect is only temporary, and eventually the snake hits the ground to end the glide."

"It`s really remarkable that an animal that, at first glance, possesses a body plan that seems so ill-suited to gliding can not only support its body weight with aerodynamic forces, but actually create a surplus of these forces," said Greg Byrnes, a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Cincinnati`s Department of Biological Sciences.

The study will be published in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

ANI



First Published: Tuesday, November 23, 2010 - 19:16

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