Biomimicry and flight go way back. Leonardo da Vinci, and others who came after him, studied avian flight to learn how to get humans off the ground and into the air. Unfortunately for Leo, his machines didn’t fly. But eventually the Wright brothers got the proper principles down, and now we have cargo planes that can transport everything from every-day commuters to endangered rhinoceroses. But there is always room for improvement, and now biomimics are looking to an unlikely candidate to study flight—snakes!
Now, of course, snakes don’t really fly per se; they actually glide. But they still utilize the same principles of lift and drag that govern bird flight. “Flying” snakes are unique among the gliding creatures such as flying squirrels and flying fish because they lack the extra membranes that these other organisms use for gliding. Instead, these animals flatten their bodies while in the air and slither as a snake would if on the ground. In effect, their whole body becomes one big wing.
Scientists have been awarded funding to better understand how paradise tree snakes in southeast Asia are able to glide long distances from tree to tree. Where did this funding come from? The U.S. Department of Defense. How exactly the United States is going to use this knowledge is yet unclear; it is purely an informational study at this point.
On that note I ask, What would you make that’s inspired by a “flying” snake?
Dena Emmerson is a biomimicry research assistant at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Butterfly Sparks Industry Revolution.