Geckos are amazing animals. Their ability to climb vertical surfaces was a constant scientific challenge for centuries. How do the geckos defy gravity? It seems that geckos use toe hairs to climb vertical surfaces.
The answer has been published on Tuesday in the Journal of Applied Physics. Researchers from University of Oregon discovered the tiny secret laying behind the magic. Apparently the geckos possess a special mechanism on their feet. ‘Seta’ is the name of the set of minuscule branched hairs on the feet of geckos. This set of hairs has the characteristic of becoming instantly sticky. The action can be reversed just as fast. The whole process of turning the stickiness on and off does not require any kind of energy.
“These are really fascinating nanoscale systems and forces at work,” said Alex Greaney, an assistant professor in the OSU 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.”
Scientists tackle all sorts of mechanisms developing in the natural world. Recently, researchers discovered that plants have a sense of hearing developed as a defense mechanisms.
Geckos use toe hairs as an ultra fast synchronous on/off mechanism
By not requiring any kind of energy, the researchers mean that the energy level is actually very low, compared to the importance and complexity of the process. The process is so fine-tuned that the geckos can move at impressive speeds across the ceilings. Geckos can run at the speed of 20 body moves per second in a highly synchronized process. Moreover, their grip is so strong that they the seta could support 50 geckos at a time.
Even if people have been interested in how the geckos manage to perform this peculiar act for a long time, only in 2000 researchers found that behind the gift lies a distinct feature. Geckos use the van deer Waals forces to walk on ceilings. This is a form of weak intermolecular force, ScienceCodex writes. Geckos do not always walk on surfaces requiring the activation of seta. In fact, their mechanism is turned off all the time and only activates if the situation calls.
How geckos manage to have such a strong grip is not only a pure scientific question. The discovery that geckos use toe hairs may have future implication in designing systems with a similar grip, like robots. Researchers have to find out how exactly the geckos manage to support the system in order find a way to replicate it.