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March 10, 2014

Researchers tackle mystery of how some snakes can fly

(Continued)

"If the cross-section was round, there's no way it would glide at all would be our guess," he said.

So shape matters, but another question lingers: Why do the snakes undulate during flight?

"When the snake glides, it is actually moving pretty dramatically in the air," Socha said, noting that other gliders hold their bodies virtually still. "It looks like it's swimming through the air."

Similar to laying a jump rope on the floor and shifting it rhythmically up and down from one end, the back-and-forth motion of the snake's head causes large waves that propagate down the body. The two researchers plan to tackle what kind of flight contribution this motion has — a much more difficult task, Socha said.

"We have not solved the mystery of how snakes fly," he said. "At this point, we have one piece of the puzzle."

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