In Southeast Asia, Watch Out for Flying Snakes

by Kids Discover


Remember that movie “Snakes on a Plane”? Here’s a twist: flying snakes! In the rainforests of Southeast and South Asia, five types of snake move from tree to tree mostly by flying.

Technically, they’re not really flying. They flatten out their bodies and parachute or glide from high spots to lower spots, as flying squirrels do. Unlike flying squirrels, which extend all four feet to create two stable wing-like structures, snakes use their ribs to become flat, and then they whip their bodies in a fast, rhythmic S-shape to stay airborne.

Why would snakes “fly”? Probably because jumping from one tree to another is faster than slithering between them, though these snakes do slither.

Could a flying snake hurt you? Maybe, but they’re not all that dangerous, because their fangs are in the back of their mouths and pretty small – about 1/10 of an inch long.

Sometimes they land on people, but even then their bites aren’t very damaging.  They’re mildly venomous but not deadly to humans. In fact, they’re classified as “harmless” … unless you’re allergic to them. Or if you’re one of their preferred foods: lizards, birds, bats, and frogs.

Flying snakes grow to be three to four feet long, but smaller snakes are better flyers.

So how far can they “fly”? Using video cameras to study the flight paths of one paradise tree snake, scientists found that on its best trip, it achieved a 13-degree trajectory. That means that if it jumped off a 15-foot-high branch and flew at a 13-degree angle, it would land 65 feet away from the base of that tree!

Flying snakes don’t make very good pets. Not only are some of them aggressive, but they need to be kept in humid places where they can practice flying. And you can’t teach a regular snake how to fly, so don’t try it!

In case you’re wondering, the snakes are:

• Chrysopelea paradisi (the paradise tree snake)

• Chrysopelea pelias (the twin-barred tree snake)

• Chrysopelea ornate (the golden tree snake)

• Chrysopelea rhodopleuron (the Moluccan flying snake)

• Chrysopelea taprobanica (the Sri Lanka flying snake).


Kids Discover For over 25 years, we’ve been creating beautifully crafted nonfiction products for kids. With a specialty in science and social studies, our team of talented writers, award-winning designers and illustrators, and subject-experts from leading institutions is committed to a single mission: to get children excited about reading and learning.


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