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Top Story

Explaining how snakes can crawl in a straight line

Snakes are known for their iconic S-shaped movements. But they have a less noticeable skill that gives them a unique superpower. Snakes can crawl in a straight line. Researchers are studying the mechanics of snake movement to understand exactly how they can propel themselves forward like a train through a tunnel. Snakes typically swim, climb or crawl by bending their spine into serpentine coils or using the leading edges to push off objects. An extreme example of their diversity of movement gives the sidewinder rattlesnake its name. But the straightforward movement of snakes, called "rectilinear locomotion," has gotten less attention. This coordination of muscle activity and skin movement was first examined in 1950 by biologist H.W. Lissmann. He hypothesized that the snake's muscles combined with its loose, flexible and squishy belly skin enabled it to scoot forward without bending its spine. Industry has tried to mimic the limbless, serpentine movements of snakes in robots that can inspect pipelines and other underwater equipment.

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