Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


What makes flying snakes such gifted gliders?


A team of researchers exploring the aerodynamics of flying snakes finds that whirls of wind, the little vortices surrounding it, give them an extra lift

Animal flight behavior is an exciting frontier for engineers to both apply knowledge of aerodynamics and to learn from nature's solutions to operating in the air. Flying snakes are particularly intriguing to researchers because they lack wings or any other features that remotely resemble flight apparatus.

The flattened shape of a flying snake in flight allows it to get lift from little whirls of wind (vortices) around it.

Credit: Copyright: Jake Socha

Before you envision flying snakes raining down from the sky, the ones involved in this study are small -- about 1 meter in length and the width of your thumb -- and live in the lowland tropical forests of Asia and Southeast Asia.

Virginia Tech Assistant Professor Jake Socha, renowned for his work with flying snakes, recently teamed with Boston University and George Washington University researchers to explore snakes' lift and wakes using computer simulations. They describe their work in the journal Physics of Fluids.

... more about:
»Physics »aerodynamics »flying snake

Previously, experiments in a wind tunnel had returned an unexpected finding: the snake's shape is not only good at generating a force of lift, but it also gets an extra boost of lift when facing the air flow at a certain angle.

"After experiments uncovered this, we decided to use computer simulations to try to explain it," says Lorena Barba, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the George Washington University.

So much of the aerodynamics of animal flight -- especially that of flying snakes -- remain a mystery. Scale is important, but also the manner in which flight is achieved.

"Rather than fixed wings, animal fliers have flapping wings," explains Barba. "In the case of gliders, their small scale means they're always in a flurry of whirling winds. By understanding how they can be graceful and efficient under these conditions, we can in turn use that knowledge to create small flying machines that are equally graceful."

Whirls of wind can be particularly useful: these little vortices "can give flying snakes an extra lift," notes Barba. "The shape of the snakes in flight -- which is a flattened version of its shape at rest -- gets help from little vortices around it."

Next, the researchers would like to include more elements of the snake's real gliding conditions into their computer simulations, such as its full body forming an S-shape, rather than working with just a section.

"This will be more difficult to do in a computer model, but it will probably reveal more about the complicated flow patterns snakes take advantage of to be such gifted gliders," Barba says.


The article, "Lift and wakes of flying snakes" (DOI: 10.1063/1. 4866444) is authored by Anush Krishnan, John J. Socha, Pavlos P. Vlachos, L. A. Barba. It will be published in the journal Physics of Fluids on on March 4, 2014. After that date, it may be accessed at:


Physics of Fluids is devoted to the publication of original theoretical, computational, and experimental contributions to the dynamics of gases, liquids, and complex or multiphase fluids. See:

Jason Socrates Bardi | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Physics aerodynamics flying snake

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1
27.10.2016 | NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute

nachricht 'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape
27.10.2016 | International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>