Almost all birds can fly. Some mammals can fly or glide. Even certain fish can spring out of the water and glide for long distances. But did you know that snakes, those reptiles that don’t even have limbs, can also glide?

The genus Chrysopelea contains the flying snakes, which consists of five species. These range from India to Indonesia, and live in trees. In fact, they spend most of their time in trees, and why shouldn’t they; after all if they want to move from branch to branch they can simply glide their way there.

A nice picture of a golden tree snake, notably not gliding. Still looks cool, though.
Image by Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The smallest of the five species, the twin-barred tree snake, grows up to two feet in length, while the largest, the golden tree snake, can get up to four feet long. Coloration depends on the species, with some being yellowy and others green or black. The species all tend to have some kind of patterning on their bodies, which again varies by species.

Now for the fun part: how do snakes, with no wings or even legs, glide through the air? Well, they simply flatten themselves by sucking in their stomachs and pushing out their ribs, which results in a nice concave ‘wing’ that glides on the air pretty well. So well, in fact, that flying snakes are often better gliders than flying squirrels and other animals that actually do have wings or wing-like modifications. The paradise tree snake has the best gliding ability of the genus, and can glide for distances of up to 100 m. During their ‘flight’, the snakes wiggle back and forth in a typical snaky motion, both to stabilize themselves and to exercise some limited directional control on their travel.

While flying snakes may seem terrifying, they really aren’t that scary. For one thing, they’re snakes, which don’t hold a candle to spiders when comes to terror factor. For another, while flying snakes are mildly venomous, they have little teeth that don’t pose a threat to people. So don’t hate flying snakes, love them! For they have managed to take to the air without any limbs at all. That’s pretty impressive, if you ask me.

Cover image by Rushen, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons