Flying snakes are “surprisingly adept at aerial manoeuvring” according to University of Chicago biologist, John Socha, who studied the paradise tree snake and described his findings in Nature, vol 418, p603, 8 August 2002. The ‘flying’ snake does not have any wing-like extensions to help it stay in the air as it leaps from tree to tree, yet its aerial performance is as good as other gliding creatures, such as squirrels and flying lizards. The paradise tree snake has control over its flight and can turn to avoid objects in its flight path. After it has launched itself it flattens its body so that its width doubles and its underside becomes slightly concave. This movement is quite different to usual snake locomotion and requires “specialised neuromuscular control”. It is not known in any other snake.
Editorial Comment: Flying animals are a real challenge to evolution. Even simple gliding flight requires precise physical changes to the body as well as the “specialised neuromuscular control”. However the most serious problem is what induced such animals to take a flying leap off an otherwise safe branch and control their flight sufficiently well to avoid colliding with other trees and land safely. Unless they get this right first time they won’t get a second chance to evolve a better system. (Ref. snakes, flight, design)