June 9, 2009--
A corn snake (pictured in an undated laboratory photo) uses its belly scales to achieve its trademark slither.
Scientists had previously assumed that the limbless reptiles
move by pushing against objects, such as as twigs and rocks.
New research confirms that friction is indeed at work but instead at a microscopic scale: The snakes' overlapping belly scales react against uneven areas on the ground, said lead study author David Hu, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech.
The discovery, detailed this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
may inspire more efficient limbless robots, which could, for instance, slither into a person's body and assist in surgery.
Photograph courtesy David Hu