Why flying snakes bend into UFO shapes

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

snakes fly
Are they getting ready to jump?

If you see a mysterious, unidentified flying object (UFO) zipping through the air, don’t assume it’s an alien spacecraft. It could be a flying snake! After all, the Chrysopelea paradisi (paradise flying snake) twists its body into a UFO-like shape before launching into the air. Even though the quirky circular form doesn’t look aerodynamic (shaped to easily move through the air), a new study found that flying snakes can soar more effectively than flying squirrels and lizards.

Some snakes can sail up to 50 feet at a time as they glide from tree branch to tree branch. Right before takeoff, the legless reptiles flatten out their bellies and arrange themselves to look like a flying saucer. They brace one last time against the tree before diving through the air and rippling as if they are swimming.

Scientists were baffled by the distance these snakes could cover with such an awkward bending of the body, so they designed an experiment. First, they created a model of a flying snake and placed it in a tube with moving water. Why? Because the liquid current mimics the effects of flying through the air! When researchers analyzed the model’s movements, they found it was basically as aerodynamic as a snake-sized airplane wing.

Even if scientists have begun solving the mystery of flying snakes, don’t expect to see any snake-shaped airplanes anytime soon!

Featured image courtesy of Jake Socha from the Journal of Experimental Biology. Image of flying snakes courtesy of Alan Couch on Wikipedia.