Material properties of skin in a flying snake (Chrysopelea ornata)

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Virginia Tech

The genus Chrysopelea encompasses the "flying" snakes. This taxon has the ability to glide via lateral aerial undulation and dorsoventral body flattening, a skill unique to this group, but in addition to other functions common to all colubrids. The skin must be extensible enough to allow this body shape alteration and undulation, and strong enough to withstand the forces seen during landing. For this reason, characterizing the mechanical properties of the skin may give insight to the functional capabilities of the skin during these gliding and landing behaviors. Dynamic and viscoelastic uniaxial tensile tests were combined with a modified particle image velocimetry technique to provide strength, extensibility, strain energy, and stiffness information about the skin with respect to orientation, region, and species, along with viscoelastic parameters. Results compared with two other species in this study and a broader range of species in prior studies indicate that while the skin of these unique snakes may not be specifically specialized to deal with larger forces, extensibility, or energy storage and release, the skin does have increased strength and energy storage associated with higher strain rates. The skin also has differing properties with respect to dorsoventral location, and regional differences in strength in the circumferential orientation. This may indicate that, although the properties of the skin may not be different, the rate at which the skin is strained in the different species may vary, thus altering the apparent properties of the skin during specific behaviors.

skin, digital image correlation, material properties, flying snakes