Friday, 23 October 2015

The slippery secret of snakes

Date:October 20, 2015

Source:AVS: Science & Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing

A shed skin of the California King Snake, examined in molecular detail by a team of researchers in Oregon and Germany, may have just yielded one of the reptile's slippery secrets. Using a combination of techniques that allowed the team to explore how molecules are arranged on the surface of the scaly skin, the team discovered a never-before-seen evolutionary adaptation that allows the animal to reduce friction on its underbelly and slither smoothly over surfaces.

The work may inspire new types of paints, coatings, plastics and other materials that are highly resistant to water -- or ultra slippery surfaces for other applications like robotic drone snakes. Engineers have designed fully articulated snakelike robots that can wriggle and writhe just like the real thing in recent years, but they have trouble slithering over some surfaces because their movement creates too much friction.

Anyone who has felt the soft body of a real snake knows how slick they feel -- a tactile trait that arises from its slippery scales, which are themselves covered with a fatty "lipid" molecule the snake produces. But one puzzling feature of these scales is that they essentially do not vary in size and shape over the body of the snake and yet numerous laboratory measurements confirm that snakes are more slippery on the belly than along the spine -- even though the scales look the same under a microscope.

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