Flying Snakes!

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You read the title correctly. Flying snakes. Southeast Asia, southernmost China, India, and Sri Lanka are home to a few species of snake that can actually glide from tree to tree. This is the serpentine genus of Chrysopelea. Luckily, they don’t prey on humans, but lizards, frogs, birds, and bats.

In order to fly from a tree, first they need to determine where they are going by hanging from a branch and leaning forward towards its destination (in a “J” shape). It then launches itself away from the tree! To maintain altitude, they suck in their stomachs (with a similar cross-section to a frisbee®) and slither through the air creating lift. There are five species listed in the genus Chrysopelea, and each have their own skills.

C. Ornata Credit: LA Dawson
C. Ornata
Credit: LA Dawson

At four feet long, C. ornata (the ornate flying snake) is the largest of them. It is lime green or yellow in most places but India, where it takes on a red and black striped pattern. Because of its size, C. ornata is considered to be a weak flier. For distance, look no further than the two foot long C. paradisi.

C. Paradisi Credit: Alan Couch
C. Paradisi
Credit: Alan Couch

The paradise tree snake is as close as anything to an actual flying (not gliding) snake. Astoundingly, it can move 100 meters (328 feet) horizontally from the top of a tree! Further, slow motion photography of the snakes show that their heads remain stable which would suggest somewhat controlled flight.

A snake using its scales to climb a tree Credit: Tim Nowak and Hamidreza Marvi
A snake using its scales to climb a tree
Credit: Tim Nowak and Hamidreza Marvi

These snakes have a better ability to glide than flying squirrels! And that’s not the only form of locomotion that they excel at… climbing trees comes quite easily to them and they do it vertically. The scales along their belly stick out in just the right way to provide grip! Luckily these frighteningly adept creatures, though slightly venomous, can’t kill a human!

Music: Violin Sonata in G Minor by Claude Debussy

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