What does come to your mind the moment you hear the word snake? An image of a slithering snake pops into the minds of most people across the world. Even though the snakes can climb trees and walls, they slither through the ground and cannot run or fly. What if we tell you that’s not the case? What if there is a chance that the snakes can fly as well?
Some snakes can fly. Thankfully, not every one of them can fly. Scientists have found five different types of snakes in the jungles of south and South East Asia that move from one tree to the next through flying. The image of the flying snakes seems like a nightmare. However, it is a real thing in the jungles of Asia.
How do snakes fly without wings?
We all know that snakes do not have wings like birds or even bats. So, the question is, how are they able to fly in the air? Well, the term flying is a bit misnomer when it comes to snakes. But they can travel by air. The only constraint is that they cannot gain any altitude without a strong draft in an upward direction.
That means despite their name, the flying snakes are actually gliders. They smartly use the momentum of the free fall and glides through the air. These snakes can glide up to 330 feet while travelling from one branch of a tree to the next.
The question is, how do they do this? Previously, the scientists thought that these snakes use the same technique as the parachuters. However, recent studies have changed that concept. The new study was conducted using 3D modelling and unprecedented filming technologies. The scientists have shown how the flying snakes arrange themselves to glide through the air and get the optimal lift.
Before the takeoff, the snakes slither to the branch’s end and create a J shape with their flexible bodies. This unique shape helps them to propel from the end of one branch to the next. During the flight, the snakes flatten their bodies so that it becomes twice its regular width. That gives its usually round body a unique concave shape. This C-type shape helps them to trap the air while gliding. By changing the form of this concave C, these snakes turn plummeting to earth into piloting. The flying snakes are far better a glider than the mammalian flying squirrels.
Snake fight evolution
Why the flying snakes evolved in such a way is still not clear to scientists. However, most of them think that the flying snakes use their ability to become airborne for escaping from the predators. Catching prey without alerting them might also be the reason for them to adapt to such a technique. Another reason might be that gliding saves enormous time and effort to slither through the forest floor to reach the targeted tree. The flying allows the snakes to reach their target area quickly and without implementing much effort.
While the researchers have understood how these snakes flatten their bodies by twisting their ribs, they are still unsure how they control their descent.
Flattening the bodies is not a new concept for snakes. The biologists point out that many other snakes can flatten their bodies for various purposes. For example, King Cobras flatten their hoods whenever they feel threatened.
Which snakes can fly?
In the entire world, there are only five snake species that can fly. The good news is all of them are native to the South and South-East Asian Jungles. So if you are not staying near Southeast Asia’s forest, the chances of a flying snake landing on your head is slim to none.
Five Flying Snakes Species
- The Paradise Tree Snake (Chrysopelea paradise)
- The Golden Tree Snake ( Chrysopelea ornata)
- The twin barred tree snake ( Chrysopelea Pelias)
- The Sri Lankan Flying Snake ( Chrysopelea taprobanica)
- The Moluccan Flying Snake ( Chrysopelea rhodopleuron)
Flying snakes behaviour
Even though the researchers know about the five flying snake species’ existence, they still do not have complete knowledge about their behaviour. However, scientists think that these snakes are highly arboreal. They love to stay on the top of the trees and rarely descend to the ground.
Even though these snakes glide through the air, they do not have a small body. The mature snakes of the smallest species can grow up to 2 feet in length. The largest ones, however, can grow up to 4 feet long. However, there is no doubt that the smaller snakes can cover more distance by air than the larger ones.
How much distance can flying snakes cover?
Researchers have studied the snakes’ flying trajectory to calculate an approximate distance these snakes can cover in a single flight. For example, in one of its best trips, a flying snake can reach a 13-degree trajectory.
That means, if the flying fish jumps from a tree branch that is 15 feet above the ground and maintains a 13-degree angle, they can move more than 65 feet from the base tree—saying that the distance depends on other factors, like air and the weight of the particular snake.
Can flying snakes be pets?
Most of the flying snakes are not very suitable for becoming a pet. Some of these snakes are aggressive and can bite if disturbed. Even though these snakes are venomous, the toxin is not strong enough to harm humans. However, to stay healthy and happy, these snakes need to live in a humid place where they can practice flying. It is hard for anyone to maintain such a terrarium in their homes.
One exception is the paradise tree snake its quite popular as a pet snake in Europe. These snakes do not grow more than 3 feet, and they are the best gliders compared to the others.
All in all, flying snakes are one of the marvels of nature. Please do not try to cage these snakes in a small box just because you want to possess one. Also, keep in mind that not every species of snakes can fly. If you are thinking about training your pet snake on the gliding techniques, it won’t work.