Non-equilibrium trajectory dynamics and the kinematics of gliding in a flying snake

Bioinspir Biomim. 2010 Dec;5(4):045002. doi: 10.1088/1748-3182/5/4/045002. Epub 2010 Nov 24.


Given sufficient space, it is possible for gliding animals to reach an equilibrium state with no net forces acting on the body. In contrast, every gliding trajectory must begin with a non-steady component, and the relative importance of this phase is not well understood. Of any terrestrial animal glider, snakes exhibit the greatest active movements, which may affect their trajectory dynamics. Our primary aim was to determine the characteristics of snake gliding during the transition to equilibrium, quantifying changes in velocity, acceleration, and body orientation in the late phase of a glide sequence. We launched 'flying' snakes (Chrysopelea paradisi) from a 15 m tower and recorded the mid-to-end portion of trajectories with four videocameras to reconstruct the snake's body position with mm to cm accuracy. Additionally, we developed a simple analytical model of gliding assuming only steady-state forces of lift, drag and weight acting on the body and used it to explore effects of wing loading, lift-to-drag ratio, and initial velocity on trajectory dynamics. Despite the vertical space provided to transition to steady-state gliding, snakes did not exhibit equilibrium gliding and in fact displayed a net positive acceleration in the vertical axis, an effect also predicted by the analytical model.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomimetics / methods*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*
  • Friction
  • Models, Biological*
  • Snakes / physiology*
  • Stress, Mechanical