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The Secret of a Snakes Slither Image 6
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The Secret of a Snake's Slither (Image 6)

May 16, 2013
The ability of a snake to redistribute its weight can be seen using force visualizations with photoelastic gelatin. When polarized light is shone through this material and then viewed through cross-polarizing film, forces applied by the snake become visible. Specifically, bright regions indicate high force. While the snake undoubtedly sticks to the gelatin as it tries to move across it, it is clear that it tends to lift the peaks and troughs of its body, as was observe by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, during normal slithering. Snake locomotion may seem simple compared to walking or galloping. But in reality, it's no easy task to move without legs. Previous research had assumed that snakes move by pushing off of rocks and debris around them. But a National Science Foundation-supported study (grant PHY 08-48894) by David Hu, a mechanical engineer at Georgia Tech, and his team found that it's all in their design--specifically, their scales. Overlapping belly scales provide friction with the ground that gives snakes a preferred direction of motion, like the motion of wheels or ice skates. And like wheels and ice skates, sliding forward for snakes takes less work than sliding sideways. In addition, snakes aren't lying completely flat against the ground as they slither. They redistribute their weight as they move, concentrating it in areas where their bodies can get the most friction with the ground and therefore maximize thrust. In this way, snake slithering is not unlike human walking--we, too, shift our weight from left to right to enable us to move. To learn more about this research, see the LiveScience article Study shows how snakes slither. (Date of Image: 2009) [Image 6 of 11 related images. See Image 7.] Credit: ©Grace Pryor, Mike Shelley, and David Hu, Applied Mathematics Laboratory, New York University, and Department of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology


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