If you’ve ever run up a sandy hill, you know it can be tough to get up it quickly — each foot sinking and sliding as you climb upward. Sidewinder snakes, however, can slither up hills rather efficiently, even in comparison to related snake species. What’s their secret?
Georgia Tech physicist Daniel I. Goldman conducted a series of tests with a sidewinder to observe and analyze how their bodies move across sand at different degrees of incline. From The New York Times:
With high-speed videotape they analyzed a sidewinder’s movement and determined that it doesn’t dig deeper into the sand as the slopes get steeper. It keeps more of its body in contact with sand as it moves by lifting other parts of its body.
They created a simple model of the snake’s movement, describing it as two waves, not simultaneous, but staggered and running from head to tail. One wave runs horizontally, parallel to the ground, and the other runs vertically, like a wave on the ocean. Together they lift portions of the snake’s body up from the sand and move it forward.
As a confirmation of their findings, the team then worked with Carnegie Mellon roboticists to program a snake robot based on the sidewinder’s movement. The result: The snakebot successfully moved up the hill, too.Watch related videos: The secret design and movement of slithering snakes, Wheeko: A snake robot that could explore Mars, and more biomimicry vids.