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Dandy Designs

An ornate flying snake

I suppose this article may bring nightmares to some folks, but there actually is a snake that flies. The snake is called the Paradise tree snake or if you like scientific names it is Chrysopelea paradisi or the Chrysopelea ornata (ornate flying snake) shown in the picture. Like the flying squirrels we all know and enjoy in America, the Paradise tree snake is actually a glider. If you saw the snake sitting on the branch of a tree, it would look like any other snake. When it gets ready to fly, the snake anchors its tail on a branch and the front part of its body drops down and then shoots up and out headfirst. Meanwhile the snakes ribs splay out and its stomach is pulled in making a dome-shaped parachute like a mushroom cap. Researchers at Virginia Tech have found that this shape gives substantial lift to the snake, but the total lift is more than this change in shape alone would allow. One proposal is that the motion of the snake in the air causes drafting which increases lift — similar to what bicycle and car racers do.

The snake can actually glide over 60 feet when leaping from a 30 foot height. The design of the body, the rib structure, and the way the snake launches itself all bring some complex engineering into the picture. The question of why this behavior is in the snake got an interesting answer when the head researcher of the snake noticed that when an airplane flew over the area where the snake was living the snake snapped up its head and followed the airplane across the sky. The obvious need for the gliding behavior is to aid in the escape from predatory birds which find this non-venomous snake to be easy prey.

You can construct a possible chance scenario for this behavior by saying that snakes that can fly survive and those who cannot fly do not. However, to have the right equipment to be able to fly is as much of an issue as is the instinctive desire to do so. Another proposal is that to keep balance in nature, God has designed instinctive survival behaviors into all forms of life, and created equipment to make those behaviors possible.

Source: Science News, March 8, 2014, page 4.

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