Flying snakes, caught on tape

November 22, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 22, 2010 -- Five related species of tree-dwelling snakes found in Southeast and South Asia may just be the worst nightmares of ophidiophobes (people who have abnormal fears of snakes). Not only are they snakes, but they can "fly" -- flinging themselves off their perches, flattening their bodies, and gliding from tree to tree or to the ground.

To Virginia Tech biologist Jake Socha, these curious reptiles are something of a biomechanical wonder. In order to understand how they do what they do, Socha and his colleagues recently studied Chrysopelea paradisi snakes as they launched themselves off a branch at the top of a 15-meter-tall tower.

Four cameras recorded the curious snakes as they glided. This allowed them to create and analyze 3-D reconstructions of the animals' body positions during flight -- work that Socha is presenting today at the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics (DFD) meeting in Long Beach, CA.

The reconstructions were coupled with an analytical model of gliding dynamics and the forces acting on the snakes' bodies. The analyses revealed that the reptiles, despite traveling up to 24 meters from the launch platform, never achieved an "equilibrium gliding" state -- one in which the forces generated by their undulating bodies exactly counteract the force pulling the animals down, causing them to move with constant velocity, at a constant angle from the horizon. Nor did the snakes simply drop to the ground.

Instead, Socha says, "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."

"Hypothetically, this means that if the snake continued on like this, it would eventually be moving upward in the air -- quite an impressive feat for a snake," he says. But our modeling suggests that the effect is only temporary, and eventually "the snake hits the ground to end the glide."
-end-
The presentation, "Gliding flight in snakes: non-equilibrium trajectory dynamics and kinematics" is at 5:06 p.m. on Monday, November 22, 2010 in the
Long Beach Convention Center Room: Grand Ballroom B. ABSTRACT: http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/DFD10/Event/133681

This research is being published in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics. See: http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-3190/

Laboratory Web site: http://www.esm.vt.edu/~jjsocha

NOTE: Images are available for use by reporters.

CAPTION The flying snake Chrysopelea paradisi.

CREDIT: Copyright Jake Socha.

MORE MEETING INFORMATION

The 63rd Annual DFD Meeting is hosted this year by the University of Southern California, California State University Long Beach, California Institute of Technology, and the University of California, Los Angeles.

It will be held at the Long Beach Convention Center, located in downtown Long Beach, California. All meeting information, including directions to the Convention Center is at: http://www.dfd2010.caltech.edu/

USEFUL LINKS

Main meeting Web site:
http://www.dfd2010.caltech.edu/

Search Abstracts:
http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/DFD10/SearchAbstract

Directions to Convention Center:
http://www.longbeachcc.com/

PRESS REGISTRATION

Credentialed full-time journalist and professional freelance journalists working on assignment for major publications or media outlets are invited to attend the conference free of charge. If you are a reporter and would like to attend, please contact Jason Bardi (jbardi@aip.org, 301-209-3091).

ONSITE WORKSPACE FOR REPORTERS

A reserved workspace with wireless internet connections will be available for use by reporters in the Promenade Ballroom of the Long Beach Convention Center on Sunday, Nov. 21 and Monday, Nov. 22 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Tuesday, Nov. 23 from 8:00 a.m. to noon. Press announcements and other news will be available in the Virtual Press Room (see below).

VIRTUAL PRESS ROOM

The APS Division of Fluid Dynamics Virtual Press Room will be launched in mid-November and will contain dozens of story tips on some of the most interesting results at the meeting as well as stunning graphics and videos. The Virtual Press Room will serve as starting points for journalists who are interested in covering the meeting but cannot attend in person. See: http://www.aps.org/units/dfd/pressroom/index.cfm

GALLERY OF FLUID MOTION

Every year, the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics hosts posters and videos that show stunning images and graphics from either computational or experimental studies of flow phenomena. The outstanding entries, selected by a panel of referees for artistic content, originality and ability to convey information, will be honored during the meeting, placed on display at the Annual APS Meeting in March of 2011, and will appear in the annual Gallery of Fluid Motion article in the September 2011 issue of the American Institute of Physics' journal, Physics of Fluids.

This year, selected entries from the 28th Annual Gallery of Fluid Motion will be hosted as part of the Fluid Dynamics Virtual Press Room. In mid-November, when the Virtual Press Room is launched, another announcement will be sent out.

ABOUT THE APS DIVISION OF FLUID DYNAMICS

The Division of Fluid Dynamics of the American Physical Society (APS) exists for the advancement and diffusion of knowledge of the physics of fluids with special emphasis on the dynamical theories of the liquid, plastic and gaseous states of matter under all conditions of temperature and pressure. See: http://www.aps.org/units/dfd/

American Institute of Physics

Related Snake Articles from Brightsurf:

First evidence of snake-like venom glands found in amphibians
Caecilians are limbless amphibians that can be easily mistaken for snakes.

Snake venom evolved for prey not protection
It is estimated that every year, over 100,000 human deaths can be attributed to snakebite from the world's 700 venomous snake species -- all inflicted in self-defence when the snakes feel threatened by encroaching humans.

Vibes before it bites: 10 types of defensive behaviour for the false coral snake
The False Coral Snake (Oxyrhopus rhombifer) may be capable of recognising various threat levels and demonstrates ten different defensive behaviours, seven of which are registered for the first time for the species.

Warming mountaintops put snake at risk of extinction
Climate change is a key factor contributing to the likely extinction of the Greek meadow viper, a new study has found.

When frogs die off, snake diversity plummets
A new study in the journal Science, shows that the snake community become more homogenized and the number of species declined dramatically after chytrid fungus decimated frog populations in a remote forest in Panama.

Venom-producing snake organoids developed in the lab
A team of scientists from the group of Hans Clevers at the Hubrecht Institute, the Netherlands, has developed a mini-venom glands of various snake species.

Snake stem cells used to create venom-producing organoids
Organoids have become an important tool for studying many disease processes and testing potential drugs.

Snake-like proteins can wrangle DNA
Theoretical simulations at Rice University suggest structural maintenance of chromosome proteins coil not only around each other but also around the strands of DNA they help manipulate.

An ancient snake's cheekbone sheds light on evolution of modern snake skulls
New research from a collaboration between Argentinian and University of Alberta palaeontologists adds a new piece to the puzzle of snake evolution.

Tropical sea snake uses its head to 'breathe'
Humans use a snorkel and fish have gills. Now researchers have found a sea snake which uses a complex system of blood vessels in its head to draw in extra oxygen when it dives and swims underwater.

Read More: Snake News and Snake Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.