The mechanism that makes flying snakes fly has been a scientific mystery for a long time. However, a recent discovery by scientists has confirmed how the reptiles are able to "defy gravity."
According to the findings, flying snakes undulate their bodies while gliding through the air in order to stay afloat.
One of these flying reptiles is the paradise tree snake or Chrysopelea paradisi. The said species are usually found in the South and Southeast regions of Asia. Since they usually live in trees, these snakes move on tree branches, and sometimes in order to move from one branch to another they would launch themselves in the air and would glide down to the branch.
A group of scientists from Virginia Tech studied these snakes and attached motion-capture tags on seven of the animals. They then proceeded to film the reptiles using high-speed cameras capturing the snakes take flight across a four-story theater. The research has been published in the online journal, Nature Physics.
Building a 3D Model
In addition, after measuring and watching more than a hundred live snake glides, Virginia Tech professor from the department of biomedical engineering and mechanics, Jake Socha worked with the team and built a 3D model.
The said 3D model took into account several factors of the glides such as the direction, the forces acting on the snake's body, mass distribution, and the undulating waves' frequency. The model was then used by the researchers in virtual experiments which aimed to investigate the mechanism of aerial undulation.
According to Fox News, Socha expressed satisfaction on finally finding out the answer to a question that has been running through his mind since he was a graduate student. He also said that despite seeing the action done more than a thousand times the flight of the reptiles still continues to amaze him.
Meanwhile, the group also tried another set of experiments, which aimed to explain or determine why undulation was part of every glide. The experiment was done by turning off the undulating waves in the 3D model. As a result, it proved that without undulation, the virtual snake's body fell.
The said test was then paired with the simulated glides in which undulation was turned on proved the group's hypothesis that the flying snake's rotational stability is enhanced by aerial undulation.
According to the paper's conclusions, the aerial undulation in snakes when compared to the already known uses of undulation in other animals served a different function. This also suggests a new control template for flying robots.
On top of this, Socha and the team believes that their 3D model has the potential to further find out the mysteries in exploring the flight of flying snakes. The team is also considering moving their experiments outdoors in order to gather more information in longer glides.
As of the moment, the 3D model of the snake-like the real animal only glides down. However, the researchers are also looking into the possibility of getting it to glide up. The researchers also stated that if these mechanisms can be built into algorithms, robotic snakes can be later on used in disaster monitoring and even search and rescue operations.