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Biol Lett. 2010 June 23; 6(3): 398–401.
Published online 2010 February 10. doi:  10.1098/rsbl.2009.1041
PMCID: PMC2880067

Utilization of granular solidification during terrestrial locomotion of hatchling sea turtles


Biological terrestrial locomotion occurs on substrate materials with a range of rheological behaviour, which can affect limb-ground interaction, locomotor mode and performance. Surfaces like sand, a granular medium, can display solid or fluid-like behaviour in response to stress. Based on our previous experiments and models of a robot moving on granular media, we hypothesize that solidification properties of granular media allow organisms to achieve performance on sand comparable to that on hard ground. We test this hypothesis by performing a field study examining locomotor performance (average speed) of an animal that can both swim aquatically and move on land, the hatchling Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). Hatchlings were challenged to traverse a trackway with two surface treatments: hard ground (sandpaper) and loosely packed sand. On hard ground, the claw use enables no-slip locomotion. Comparable performance on sand was achieved by creation of a solid region behind the flipper that prevents slipping. Yielding forces measured in laboratory drag experiments were sufficient to support the inertial forces at each step, consistent with our solidification hypothesis.

Keywords: Loggerhead sea turtle, biomechanics, locomotion, granular media, drag, limb

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