Dear Brayton,

Snakes slither to move around because they have no legs. They rely on their muscles and scales.

The scales on a snake are made from a material called keratin. That’s the same material that makes up human fingernails. They help the snake move on different surfaces.

I asked my friend Nickol Finch exactly how the scales on a snake move when it encounters different surfaces. She is a professor and veterinarian at Washington State University and head of the exotics and wildlife department, which includes snakes and other reptiles.

She said that when a snake moves some of the scales on its belly will touch the surface of the ground, while other scales do not. The scales drag against the ground to help move the snake forward.

Finch said that a snake’s strong muscles help it lift some scales and allow it to move along rough surfaces like branches and trees. Rough surfaces are easy for a snake to move on because the scales can more easily grip the surface. Although a snake can move on a slippery surface it can be awkward. A slippery surface is harder to grip.

Snakes around the world

There are about 3,000 different snakes around the world. They live everywhere including the desert, forest, and even the ocean. In fact, snakes can be found in every continent except Antarctica.

The Golden Tree Snake, also known as the ornate flying snake, uses the scales on its belly to slither up trees in the Indonesian jungles. But once the snake reaches a tall branch, it jumps to get to another tree. This way the snake saves energy and it avoids predators on the ground.

Maybe they should call the snake the skydiver. Imagine looking up at the sky and seeing snakes zipping right over your head.

Another snake in Indonesia does not use scales on its belly to slither. The Elephant Trunk Snake is aquatic, meaning it spends most of its time in water. Its scales help it catch slippery fish. Around the world we find all kinds of snakes with unique characteristics. What other cool snakes have you heard about? Tell us about them sometime at


Freddy Llanos (and Dr. Universe)


Freddy Llanos contributed this article. He is a student in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.