Snakes make slithering about look easy but the science behind how they do it is fascinating! It’s all about their bodies.
Snakes’ tummy scales can feel smooth or rough, depending on which direction you stroke them. If you stroke from head to tail, they feel smooth but if you stroke from tail to head, they feel rough. The scales overlap each other a bit like tiles on the roof of a house. This makes snakes ‘slidy’ in one direction and ‘grippy’ in the other, so it is easier for snakes to move forwards than backwards.
Snakes also use their muscles to help them move along. They squeeze and relax their muscles from head to tail and move their bodies from side to side, making themselves ‘wavy’, rather than straight. They can also lift parts of their bodies up off the ground.
So, using their scales to grip the ground, squeezing and relaxing their muscles and moving their bodies from side to side, snakes can push themselves forward and slither along.
Snakes find it tricky to move across smooth surfaces because there is less to grip onto but they can ‘swim’ because they can use their bodies to push through water.
I like this short video that explains how snakes move (although, if you don’t want to see a snake catching a mouse, you might want to look away for 5 seconds at 1min50s). I also like this clip from a BBC natural history documentary, which talks about how fast some snakes can travel.