2 min read

Watch How Sidewinder Snakes Slide Up Sandy Slopes

<p>Photo: Rob Felt</p>

The sidewinder, a species of North American rattlesnake, can expertly shimmy uphill on sand dunes. These vipers angle their bodies in such a way that sand poses little danger of sinking.

A sidewinder drifts up an artificial dune. (Credit: Maxwell Guberman)

To figure out how these serpents mastered the sand, scientists at Georgia Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Oregon State University and Zoo Atlanta created a simulated dune, then watched as the snakes did their twist.

(Credit: Maxwell Guberman)

Sidewinders rely on a unique wave pattern to skim over dunes, the researchers reported in the journal Science on Thursday. A sidewinder lifts certain segments of his body, while other sections remain in contact and push across the grains - a rolling motion almost like the treads of a tractor.

(Credit: Maxwell Guberman)

Understanding the winding locomotion of snakes, the scientists point out, can help build better robots. (Right now, most robots struggle with natural environments; even MIT's bounding cyber-cheetah was only let outside for the first time in September.) A snake-like automaton could motor over places that traditionally pose problems to robots, like Colorado's Great Sand Dunes - or red, sandy planets.

(Credit: Maxwell Guberman)