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How Snakes Move: Legless Locomotion
You’ll find a number of reptiles to gaze at here. Learn some of their scaly secrets with Groupon’s examination of snake movement.
If you lie on the ground and—without using your arms or legs—tried to make it across the room, you probably wouldn’t get far. So how do snakes do it, assuming they’re not all under a warlock’s spell? Effective slithering has two parts: friction and movement pattern. A snake isn’t quite as smooth as it first appears. Special raised ventral scales positioned along each rib can be used to push off the ground and propel its body along inch by inch. Like tread on sneakers, scales use friction to anchor one part of the body so another part can move forward. Because of the way the scales overlap, it’s difficult for the snake to accidentally slip backward unless the ground surface is totally smooth.
Snakes can use this basic motion to move in a straight line, inchworm-style, but it’s slow. Far more often, you’ll find them moving in an S shape. In water, this pattern maximizes speed by pushing more water behind the snake with each wriggle. On land, it lets the snake use many points of its body at once to push off. When climbing, snakes use their bodies almost like springs. They bunch up into tight, grippy curves and then launch themselves up along the tree or pant leg they’re ascending to repeat the process.
- While the structure of snakes’ bodies may appear to be extremely repetitive, their muscles are actually more highly specialized than those of any other animal. That’s what gives them such incredible flexibility.
- Some snakes can move in even more dramatic ways—cobras stretch out their neck ribs to form their telltale hoods, and hognose snakes can pull some of their ribs loose to flatten out.