Flying snakes like Chrysopelea paradisi, the paradise tree snake, normally live in the trees of South and Southeast Asia. There, they cruise along tree branches and, sometimes, to get to the ground or another tree, they'll launch themselves into the air and glide down at an angle.
They undulate their serpentine bodies as they glide through the air, and it turns out that these special movements are what let these limbless creatures make such remarkable flights.
That's according to some new research in the journal Nature Physics that involved putting motion-capture tags on seven snakes and then filming them with high-speed cameras as the snakes flew across a giant four-story-high theater.
How far they can go really depends on how high up they are when they jump, says Jake Socha at Virginia Tech, who has studied these snakes for almost a quarter-century. He recalls that one time he watched a snake start from about 30 feet up and then land nearly 70 feet away. "It was really a spectacular glide," Socha recalls.
Part of the way the snakes do this is by flattening out their bodies, he says. But the snakes' bodies also make wavelike movements. "The snake looks like it's swimming in the air," he says. "And when it's swimming, it's undulating."