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Geckos Act like Springs, Researchers Say

Sep 02, 2015 05:15 PM EDT

Geckos' seemingly sticky-footed ability to clamber over vertical walls and ceiling has long fascinated scientists. In particular, they've wondered how large species are able to use adhesion to climb vertical walls and crawl across ceilings just as successfully as smaller ones. Researchers already know that microscopic hairs on toe pads and a unique internal anatomy allow geckos to scale walls, whether they weigh 2 or 250 grams. So how do such large and small geckos all preform the same tricks?"

It was once thought to be simple: as geckos got larger, so did their toe pads. However, researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently published a study in PLOS ONE, explaining that this change alone could not support larger species.

The researchers instead believe that a gecko's body acts like a spring, and as the geckos get larger, they become stiffer to enhance adhesion. This would then allow them to climb as effectively as their smaller friends, as a release noted.

To test this, researchers developed synthetic three-toed gecko feet to model the species' ability to adhere to walls. They created this model from fabrics and soft elastomers, said the release.

"These findings not only help us to understand the natural world around us, but they also provide the physical ingredients for engineers to build new, better adhesives," Alfred J. Crosby, a polymer scientist, said in a news release.

The researchers further noted in the release that the stiffness enhances adhesion because it works with the surface forces produced by van der Waals bonds, "Our analysis shows that simple mechanical changes in geckos explains a large portion of the adhesive ability of geckos."

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