The Loh Down On Science

The surprising aerodynamics of snakes will intrigue you!

You think Snakes on a Plane was scary?  Here's a snake that can fly without a plane!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh wit h The Loh Down on Science, saying: 

Look out below!

The three-foot-long paradise tree snake lives in the rainforests of southeast Asia.  And technically, it doesn’t really fly, as in flapping its … anything.  Instead, it flings itself out of trees and glides through the air with the greatest of ease.  Ask Jake Socha of Virginia Tech.  He’s been studying the species for years.

Videotape reveals its unique technique.  While airborne, the tree snake flattens its rib cage along its entire length, making its normally round body triangular.  This creates the perfect aerodynamic angle to achieve lift.  At the same time, it whips itself into an undulating S-shape – the same way it moves on land – keeping its wide, flat edge broadside to the air flowing past.  This both stabilizes it and keeps it aloft longer, for greater distance.  

You can see cool flying-snake videos on our website.

Basically?  The snake turns itself into a Frisbee.  Wheee!

But why does it glide?  Likely to save energy and travel time.  Or to escape predators.  

Or ... to give us a new kind of extreme Ultimate Frisbee game.  Wheeeeee!

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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