Surface structure and frictional properties of the skin of the Amazon tree boa Corallus hortulanus (Squamata, Boidae)

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2009 Mar;195(3):311-8. doi: 10.1007/s00359-008-0408-1. Epub 2009 Jan 10.


The legless locomotion of snakes requires specific adaptations of their ventral scales to maintain friction force in different directions. The skin microornamentation of the snake Corallus hortulanus was studied by means of scanning electron microscopy and the friction properties of the skin were tested on substrates of different roughness. Skin samples from various parts of the body (dorsal, lateral, ventral) were compared. Dorsal and lateral scales showed similar, net-like microornamentation and similar friction coefficients. Average friction coefficients for dorsal and lateral scales on the epoxy resin surfaces were 0.331 and 0.323, respectively. In contrast, ventral scales possess ridges running parallel to the longitudinal body axis. They demonstrated a significantly lower friction coefficient compared to both dorsal and lateral scales (0.191 on average). In addition, ventral scales showed frictional anisotropy comparing longitudinal and perpendicular direction of the ridges. This study clearly demonstrates that different skin microstructure is responsible for different frictional properties in different body regions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amazona
  • Animals
  • Anisotropy
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Boidae / anatomy & histology*
  • Boidae / physiology*
  • Epidermis / metabolism
  • Epidermis / ultrastructure*
  • Friction
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning / methods
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Surface Properties