An unusual breed of Asian snakes can glide long distances in the air, and the Defense Department is funding research at Virginia Tech to find out why.
“Basically . . . they become one long wing,” said John Socha, the Virginia Tech researcher who has traveled extensively in Asia to study the snakes and to film them.
“The snake is very active in the air, and you can kind of envision it as having multiple segments that become multiple wings,” he said. “The leading edge becomes the trailer, and then the trailer become the leading edge.”
It gets stranger. During a technique not yet understood, some of the snakes can actually turn in air. What’s more, they all take a flying leap off their perch to get airborne, then drop for a while to pick up speed before starting the motion that keeps them aloft much longer than they would otherwise.
Socha’s initial research was sponsored by the National Geographic Society, but his most recent work and paper were funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The agency is involved in advanced military technologies of all kinds, and Socha said the physical dynamics of snake flight (and how other creatures stay in the air) is of great interest to the agency. (Washington Post)