Flying snake mystery solved by science

Chris Burns - Jun 29, 2020, 12:39 pm CDT
Flying snake mystery solved by science

The latest study published by Virginia Tech on flying snakes revealed a key point in the process. With motion capture technology and high-speed cameras aplenty, researchers created a three-dimensional mathematical model of snake flight that incorporates aerodynamic and inertial effects. They confirmed that it’s not any one element that allows this flight, but a combination of the shape the snakes makes, the locomotion of the snake, and other elements that make the glide function. This work shows “a different function than known uses of undulation in other animals” – which COULD be used to make new dynamic flying robots!

If you’ve been reading SlashGear for a decade (or more), you might remember the gliding snake research funded by US government report from back in November of 2010. Back then, we reported that the US Defense Department was funding researchers at Virginia Tech, looking at five species of snakes that can “fly” – AKA fall with style (with respect to Buzz Lightyear). Virginia Tech biologist Jake Socha was at the head of that project in 2010.

Here in 2020, it’s Socha again. He’s been studying flying snakes for well over a decade. In the crew that’s published this latest report is Isaac J Yeaton, Shane D Ross, and Grant A Baumgardner as well.

This study shows reconstructions of the snake’s “wing-body” in 3D motion. Aerial undulation requires both horizontal and vertical waves “whose phases differ by 90-degrees and whose frequencies differ by a factor of two.”

Now watch this flying snake video and see what’s up. Or what’s falling… slowly.

For more information on the report, take a peek at the paper “Undulation enables gliding in flying snakes” by Isaac Yeaton, Shane Ross, Grant Baumgardner, and John Socha. This paper was published in Nature this week. Drop in and see the new model!

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