Nanoscale design of snake skin for reptation locomotions via friction anisotropy

J Biomech. 1999 May;32(5):477-84. doi: 10.1016/s0021-9290(99)00013-5.


Multi-mode scanning probe microscopy is employed to investigate the nanostructure of dermal samples from three types of snakes. Sophisticated friction modifying nanostructures are described. These include an ordered microfibrillar array that can function to achieve mission adaptable friction characteristics. Significant reduction of adhesive forces in the contact areas caused by the 'double-ridge' nanoscale microfibrillar geometry provides ideal conditions for sliding in forward direction with minimum adhesive forces and friction. Low surface adhesion in these local contact points may reduce local wear and skin contamination by environmental debris. The highly asymmetric, 'pawl-like' profile of the microfibrillar ends with radius of curvature 20-40 nm induces friction anisotropy in forward backward motions and serves as an effective stopper for backward motion preserving low friction for forward motion. The system of continuous micropores penetrating through the snake skin may serve as a delivery system for lubrication/anti-adhesive lipid mixture that provides for boundary lubrication of snake skins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / ultrastructure
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Boidae / anatomy & histology*
  • Friction
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Lubrication
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin / ultrastructure*
  • Surface-Active Agents / metabolism
  • Tissue Adhesions


  • Surface-Active Agents