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A University of Cincinnati team has acquired a better understanding of how brown tree snakes lodge themselves in place during climbing. The resulting knowledge could lead to new bio-inspired robotic designs.

University of Cincinnati professor of biology Bruce Jayne discovered that variations in surface structure can have interactive effects on the snakes' speed and type of locomotion. Jayne noted the gripping advantages of sharper snake-belly keels for more efficient climbing, especially as a surface becomes steeper.

The researchers saw that the snakes can also cope with different structures in their environment by modifying their behavior. For example, on the steep, smooth cylinders that lacked any pegs, the snake species had an accordion-like movement. By contrast, when the pegs were tall enough to prevent slipping and the inclines were shallow, all of the snakes were very adept at balancing and sliding as they pushed against the pegs to propel themselves.

Using snake behavior and shapes can help improve robotic designs, such as camera-equipped snake-like robots that climb flagpoles and move inside tight spaces.

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