Regional Specialization of Reptilian Scale Surfaces: Relation of Texture and Biologic Role

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Science  25 Mar 1977:
Vol. 195, Issue 4284, pp. 1348-1350
DOI: 10.1126/science.195.4284.1348


The iridescent body scales of the fossorial uropeltid snakes produce these interference colors by keratinous ridges spaced at 2500 Å. The pattern inhibits wetting of the surface and adhesion of soil particles and thus reduces friction between the snake's trunk and walls of its tunnel. The epidermal scales of the blunt tail show a sharply defined pattern of spines and ridges with convergent flutings. Dirt caught here forms a plug that protects the snake's caudal end. The sharp transition of surface textures suggests (i) that selection for each of the two roles is great, and (ii) that the interference colors of many fossorial snakes indicate that friction as well as dirt adhesion are being reduced.