Saturday, 6 December 2014

For Geckos – Even Dead Ones – Being Sticky Doesn’t Require Any Effort

December 6, 2014

April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Mankind has been fascinated with geckos for centuries. We have studied everything from how they reproduce in space to how they are able to climb any surface. We have even tried to replicate their ability to climb with a DARPA program called Z-Man. Although we have been successful in copying their ability, we still don’t understand how the gecko achieves the adhesive strength with which they climb and cling to nearly any surface.

A new study from the University of California, Riverside (UCR), published online in Biology Letters, investigates the question: Is the strength of this adhesion determined by the gecko or is it somehow intrinsic to the adhesive system? In other words, is this adhesion an “active” action initiated by the animal, or a “passive” action resulting from the way the toe pads work?

The researchers, led by associate professor of biology Timothy E. Higham, conducted laboratory experiments on live and dead geckos to determine the answer to whether this ability is active or passive. They were surprised to find that dead geckos have the exact same strength of adhesion as live geckos.

“With regards to geckos, being sticky doesn’t require effort,” said Higham, who conducted the research alongside William J. Stewart, a postdoctoral researcher in Higham’s lab. “We found that dead geckos maintain the ability to adhere with the same force as living animals, eliminating the idea that strong adhesion requires active control. Death affects neither the motion nor the posture of clinging gecko feet. We found no difference in the adhesive force or the motion of clinging digits between our before- and after-death experiments.”

Scientific literature has, in the past, suggested that gecko adhesion at the organismal, or whole-animal, level would require active initiation by the animal. For example, does the gecko need to initiate a muscle activity to push the foot and toes onto the surface to enhance their adhesion? Despite years of speculation, this has never been tested.


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