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3-D Printing Helps Scientists Learn About Flying Snakes

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flying snakeIf you’ve never heard of flying snakes, well…I suppose something has to catch the flying squirrels, right? And I’d take flying snakes over flying spiders any day. Flying snakes have conventional movement skills — they undulate and slither and all that, but they can also climb up trees using the scales on their undersides and from there they can launch themselves from branch to branch, covering distances of 300 feet. Scientists have observed that they flatten their bodies to achieve maximum lift, somehow twisting and collapsing their ribs in a shape that looks from the side like a UFO. But the actual mechanics of the process has eluded scientists, and they’re using 3-D printing to help them figure it out.

Scientists don’t even fully understand why snakes fly in the first place. Escaping predators is a likely bet, as is evading land-bound predators, given that they can largely avoid traveling on the ground. They might even hunt via flight — if I were looking out for snakes, I probably wouldn’t think to look up. Whatever the reason(s), flying snakes exhibit an impressive mastery of aerodynamics, and biomechanists from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg finally turned to technology to help them understand nature.