The Miracle Of How Geckos Cling To Ceilings Has Finally Been Explained

Geckos’ feet are nonsticky by default, but they can activate stickiness through application of a small shear force, according to research from Oregon State University. Image: Bjorn Christian Torrissen

Researchers have developed a model which explains how geckos, as well as spiders and some insects, can run up and down walls, cling to ceilings and defy gravity with such effortless grace.

The solution, outlined in the Journal of Applied Physics, is a remarkable mechanism in the toes of geckos which uses tiny, branched hairs called seta which can instantly turn stickiness on and off, and even unstick their feet without using any energy.

These extraordinary hairs contribute to the ability of geckos to run, evade predators and protect its very life and survival.

“These are really fascinating nanoscale systems and forces at work,” said Alex Greaney, an assistant professor at Oregon State University College of Engineering.

“It’s based not just on the nature of the seta but the canted angles and flexibility they have, and ability to work under a wide range of loading conditions.”

Even more compelling is the minimal amount of energy expended in the whole process.

A gecko can race across a ceiling with millions of little hairy contact points on its feet turning sticky and non-sticky in a precisely integrated process.

This adhesion system allows them to run at 20 body-lengths per second.

Hanging from a ceiling, the forces provided by the seta can support 50 times the body weight of the gecko.

The adhesion system used by geckos and insects have been studied for thousands of years but it was only in 2000 that experts proved they are taking advantage of a concept in physics called van der Waals forces, a type of weak intermolecular force.

Geckos’ feet are, by default, non-sticky, but the stickiness can be activated by a small shear force to produce this surprisingly tough form of adhesion.

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