Snakes wiggle their bodies to propel themselves on land or through water, but why certain flying snake species do so in the air was unclear. Researchers have now found that this undulation helps the snakes stabilise their bodies, enabling them to glide further.
Isaac Yeaton at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and his colleagues studied the movements of Chrysopelea paradisi, the paradise tree snake, a species that launches itself from the tops of trees and can travel up to 100 metres horizontally in a single glide.
These snakes flatten their bodies by splaying their ribs and wiggle from side to side as they glide, travelling at speeds of about 10 metres per second.
The team studied the movement of seven paradise tree snakes using high-speed motion capture, filming them from above as they launched off an 8.3-metre-high platform to an artificial tree on the ground.