My dissertation focuses on specialized locomotion and associated morphology in snakes at levels ranging from biomechanical differences among individuals from a single population up to macroevolution over the course of millions of years.
I am especially interested in sidewinding, an unusual type of locomotion best known in a handful of sand-dwelling viper species. During sidewinding, a snake alternately holds some sections of its body stationary on the ground while lifting other sections up and forward in loops, eventually anchoring them to new stationary points farther along. I wrote a review of sidewinding locomotion for a 2020 SICB symposium; check it out if you’re interested in learning more! The supplemental tables have details on species known to sidewind, including dozens that can do it facultatively under certain conditions.
One of my chapters focuses on sidewinding biomechanics. For that project, I spent a summer conducting fieldwork in Arizona with Rulon Clark and his students (San Diego State University), where I collected 3D high-speed video data for sidewinder rattlesnakes ranging from a measly 8 g to a whopping (for a sidewinder) 272 g. A co-author and I extracted several kinematics variables from the videos, and I am currently finishing up analyses to determine how kinematics vary with body size and other morphological traits.
I’m working on another set of snake locomotion projects in collaboration with Bruce Jayne (University of Cincinnati). We collected data for several natricine species (mostly water snakes of the genus Nerodia, plus some relatives) to explore individual variation in locomotor behavior and performance of different types of locomotion. We elicited sidewinding from several species, and I’m very excited to see where our analyses take us.
The final chapters of my dissertation give us a big-picture view of morphological differences among species. In one project, recently published at Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, I used phylogenetic comparative methods to explore how viper morphology evolves with respect to sidewinding, arboreality, and climate. My last chapter, currently in progress, takes an even broader look at snake evolution with a dataset of ~1,000 species.