Fabulous Flight of the Flying Snakes

Posted in Wildlife A-Z | April 1, 2010 | Comment Now

It may be frightening to picture a group of flying snakes. This could be the stuff that nightmares are made of. However, flying snakes are a reality in South and Southeast Asia.

The term ‘flying snake’ may sound strange as these creatures do not reach high altitudes. They have strong updraft. They are generally gliders and use the speed of free falls with body contortions to remain in air and generate appropriate lift.

The flying snake is thought to be more of a parachuter than a glider. Recent research has thrown up interesting facts on how these limbless creatures plummet in the air.

By preparing for a take-off, a flying snake will move to the end of a branch and dangle in a ‘J’ shape. It then uses the lower half of the body to propel itself from the branch. Here, it resembles an ‘S’ shape. It flattens itself by doubling its width. This gives its body a characteristic, concave C shape. This helps to trap air. The snake moves back and forth making turns. In comparison with flying squirrels, flying snakes are better gliders.

There are nearly five species of flying snakes found predominantly in western India and the Indonesian archipelago. Their behavior in the wild is limited. They are regarded as highly arboreal and rarely descend from the canopy. The smallest flying snake is about 2 feet in length, while the largest can grow to four feet.

Their food depends on their striking range. In general, they eat rodents, lizards, frogs, birds, and bats. They have venom in small quantities but are harmless to humans.

Research is still required to understand the reasons for their flying behavior. The frequency of flying, too, needs to be determined. Some of the reasons for flying include fleeing from predators, moving across trees without having to touch the ground, and hunting prey.

Flying snakes are abundant with no special conservation status tagged to them. However, the twin-barred tree snake, which is one of the species, is considered to be rare.

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