Undulating Keeps Flying Snakes Steady

A flying snake takes off and flattens its body.

Flying snakes undulate through the air as they glide. But, unlike on land, these wiggles aren’t for propulsion. A new study shows instead that they are key to the snake staying stable in flight.

Upon take-off, a flying snake flattens its body, forming a wing-like shape that helps them generate lift and control drag. But while they glide, they also slither and pitch their tail.

Researchers recorded more than 150 flights by live snakes, then used that data to construct their own digital snake. The model could fly like a real snake or be tested without undulations to see what would happen. The researchers discovered that, without that mid-air slithering, the snake quickly lost control and rolled to the side. (Image and research credit: I. Yeaton et al.; via NYTimes; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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