Phenomena

Snail Locomotion

A brown snail climbing down a stem.

Snails and other gastropods move using their single muscular foot and a viscoelastic fluid they secrete. Muscular waves in the foot run from tail to head and are transmitted to the ground through the thin, sticky mucus layer without the snail ever fully detaching from the surface. The characteristics of this mucus layer are critical to the snail’s locomotion. As a movement cycle begins, the mucus behaves like an elastic solid. As the muscular wave approaches, it shears the fluid, increasing its stress and ultimately reaching the yield point, where the gel begins to flow. Once the wave passes, the mucus quickly transitions back to its elastic solid behavior. The net result of each cycle is an asymmetric force that propels the snail forward while keeping it adhered to whatever surface it’s crawling on.

Many animals rely on similarly complex fluids to move, attack prey, defend against predators, or enable their reproduction. Check out this review article for more examples. (Image credit: A. Perry; see also P. Rühs et al.; submitted by Pascal B.)

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