Look at that snake fly

'Flying' paradise tree snake glides gracefully between trees by undulating its body, researcher finds.

It may not be faster than a speeding bullet, but the paradise tree snake can leap from tall trees in a single bound.

A researcher has found how the snake (Chrysopelea paradisi) glides gracefully and accurately between trees in its native Singapore.

It turns out the snake doesn't need wings, rotors or flaps to stay aloft.

To figure it out, graduate student John Socha from the University of Chicago studied photos and videotapes of the snakes leaping from a 10-metre tower in the Singapore Zoological Gardens.

The snakes don't actually fly. Rather, they glide or parachute like flying squirrels and lizards.

Undulations do the trick

But the snake's aerial behaviour differs from other gliders, which use wings or flaps to generate lift. The paradise tree snake simply takes off by hanging from a branch in a "J" shape, jumps off and then flattens and undulates its body while gliding.

The flying snake lives in trees and has no appendages. To glide, the snake forms its body into an "S" shape. Instead of steering by banking or leaning as airplanes do, the snake changes the pattern of how it slithers and undulates.

The snake sucks in its stomach and wiggles its body roughly once a second to glide.

Socha described his findings in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature. The paper is part of larger research project he is conducting as part of his dissertation.

Not much is known about the predators, sleeping habits or gliding mechanics of flying snakes. They can grow about one metre long and live in the tropical rain forests of South and Southeast Asia.