Flying Snake's Secret: Its 'UFO Shape'

Researchers use 3D printer to explain mysterious glider

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 1, 2014 7:10 AM CST

(Newser) – Researchers think they've at long last solved, at least partially, the mystery of so-called "flying snakes." The five species of Chrysopelea don't actually fly, but they're impressive gliders, capable of sailing up to 100 feet through the air. Until now, scientists didn't know how they managed it, but now they think they do: As the snakes jump, they flatten out their ribs and contort themselves into an S-shape that sorta kinda resembles a flying saucer, LiveScience reports.

"You never find this kind of shape in any other animal flyer; you don't find it in engineered flyers," says one study co-author. "We didn't know if that was a good shape to have." The snake's body develops a curve a little like an airplane wing, the BBC explains, which coupled with its undulating movements generates lift. Researchers hit on the discovery using 3D-printed models in tanks of water, National Geographic reports. But observations of real snakes indicate that they're even better gliders than the model suggested, meaning some aspect of their prowess remains unexplained. (In another recent animal-kingdom discovery, meet the world's new toad.)

A flying snake.
A flying snake.   (Wikimedia/Violetto)
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You can see a flying snake glide from branch to branch in this video clip.   (YouTube/National Geographic)

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