Shovel-Nosed Snake Swims Through Sand Better Than The Sandfish Lizard

Posted on January 18, 2015

Shovel-nosed snake in the sand

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have been studying the sand swimming abilities of sharks and snakes for years. The researchers even built a robot based on the sandfish lizard, which swims through the sand of the Sahara desert. The researchers have concluded that the shovel-nosed snake is a better sand swimmer than the sandfish lizard.

The shovel-nosed snake is a native of the Mojave Desert in the southwest United States. The researchers studied how both the shoveled-nosed snake and sandfish move through the sand using X-ray technology. They found the snake beat the lizard in both speed and energy efficiency.

Dan Goldman, an associate professor in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, says in a statement, "We were curious about how this snake moved, and once we observed its movement, how it moved so well in the sand. Our model reveals how both the snake and the sandfish move as fast as their body shapes permit while using the least amount of energy. We found that the snake's elongated shape allowed it to beat the sandfish in both speed and energy efficiency."

The scientists say the snake propagates waves down its body that enhance its movement through the sand. They say it travels primarily through the same tube in the sand that is created by its body movement and it is basically following its own tracks. This helps reduce the amount of energy the snake needs to move through the sand. The snake also has skin that is more slippery than the sandfish. This reduces the friction the snake experiences in the sand.

Take a look:



The scientists say their study of snakes and sandfish could help with the building of robots that can move through sand more efficiently. A research paper, "Locomotor benefits of being a slender and slick sand swimmer," was published here in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Photo Jason Maderer/Georgia Tech