Saturday, 26 December 2015

Snake bellies help scientists get a grip

Date:December 17, 2015
Source:University of Cincinnati

For many of us, the bodies of moving snakes look like little more than wiggly strands of spaghetti.

However, Bruce Jayne, University of Cincinnati professor of biology in the McMicken College of Art and Sciences, sees a wide variety of anatomy and behavior that allows diverse snake species to crawl and climb almost anywhere, including tree branches with variable bark texture.

Using three different species to test their tree-worthy talents, Jayne and his students studied stout and heavy boa constrictors, medium-weight corn snakes and the slender and agile brown tree snakes.

Unlike most snakes that have a nearly circular cross sectional shape, Jayne found that brown tree snakes look more like a loaf of bread where the top is rounded but the bottom has corners -- called keels -- where the skin on either side of the belly is folded. He says these sharply contoured keels are the key for how various tree snakes can exploit subtle nooks and crannies in tree bark to prevent slipping, and propel themselves up a tree quickly, making it easier to get to their prey in a flash with less effort. To a smaller extent corn snakes have this shape, and boa constrictors were the roundest species that Jayne studied.

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