Limbless locomotion: how snakes use friction to move

Applied and Computational Mathematics Seminar
Monday, November 30, 2009 - 12:00
1 hour (actually 50 minutes)
Skiles 269
Georgia Tech ME
How do animals move without legs? In this experimental and theoretical study, we investigate the slithering of snakes on flat surfaces. Previous studies of slithering have rested on the assumption that snakes slither by pushing laterally against rocks and branches. In this combined experimental and theoretical study, we develop a model for slithering locomotion by observing snake motion kinematics and experimentally measuring the friction coefficients of snake skin. Our predictions of body speed show good agreement with observations, demonstrating that snake propulsion on flat ground, and possibly in general, relies critically on the frictional anisotropy of their scales. We also highlight the importance of the snake's dynamically redistributing its weight during locomotion in order to improve speed and efficiency. We conclude with an overview of our experimental observations of other methods of propulsion by snakes, including sidewinding and a unidirectional accordion-like mode.