To find out how the paradise tree snake "flies" between the trees of the Asian forest, Virginia Tech biomechanist Jake Socha and his colleagues did the obvious. They tossed snakes off a 49-foot tower and let them wriggle to freedom.

Socha and his team were attempting to determine how Chrysopelea paradisi is able to glide from tree to tree. As you can see, the snakes slither rapidly to slow their descent and to change the angle of their fall. Said Socha of the snake's aerodynamic wriggling:

The snake is pushed upward-even though it is moving downward-because the upward component of the aerodynamic force is greater than the snake's weight [...] Hypothetically, this means that if the snake continued on like this, it would eventually be moving upward in the air-quite an impressive feat for a snake.

He also suspects that, in the higher canopy of Asia, the paradise tree snake may be able to get a greater lift. You can read more of Socha's research — "Non-equilibrium trajectory dynamics and the kinematics of gliding in a flying snake" — which was published today in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics. Incidentally, DARPA is interested in the snake's flight (PDF) — are we looking at the airmen of our mutant future or some horrible new herpetological missile?

[Via Scientific American. Video via National Geographic.]