Side-Impact Collision: Mechanics of Obstacle Negotiation in Sidewinding Snakes
Snakes excel at moving through cluttered environments, and heterogeneities can be used as propulsive contacts for snakes performing lateral undulation. However, sidewinding, often associated with sandy deserts, cuts a broad path through the environment that may increase the vulnerability to obstacles. Our prior work demonstrated that sidewinding can be represented as a pair of orthogonal body waves (vertical and horizontal) that can be independently modulated to achieve high maneuverability and
... maneuverability and incline ascent, suggesting that sidewinders may also use template modulations to negotiate obstacles. To test this hypothesis, we recorded overhead video of four sidewinder rattlesnakes (Crotalus cerastes) crossing a line of vertical pegs placed in the substrate. Snakes used three methods to traverse the obstacles: a Propagate Through behavior in which the lifted moving portion of the snake was deformed around the peg and dragged through as the snake continued sidewinding (115/160 runs), Reversal turns that reorient the snake entirely (35/160), or switching to Concertina locomotion (10/160). The Propagate- Through response was only used if the anterior-most region of static contact would propagate along a path anterior to the peg, or if a new region of static contact could be formed near the head to satisfy this condition; otherwise, snakes could only use Reversal Turns or switch to Concertina locomotion. Reversal Turns allowed the snake to re-orient and either escape without further peg contact or resorting to Propagate Through. We developed an algorithm to reproduce the Propagate Through behavior in a robotic model using a modulation of the two-wave template. This range of behavioral strategies provides sidewinders with a versatile range of options for effectively negotiating obstacles in their natural habitat, as well as provide insights into the design and control of robotic systems dealing with heterogeneous habitats.