Scientists have figured out why geckos can run even on wet walls

(ORDO NEWS) — Geckos are well known for their ability to move on vertical surfaces like spiders. Now scientists have found that they get this “superpower” not only thanks to the many thinnest outgrowths on the fingers, similar to hairs, but also the layer of lipids that covers them, just a nanometer thick.

The ability of geckos to move on any surface has long attracted the attention of scientists: looking at dexterous lizards clinging to walls or even a ceiling, moving on wood, metal or glass, a person involuntarily wondered how this animal manages not to fall to the ground, even hanging upside down.

It has long been known that one of the key anatomical features that “gives” geckos their abilities is the surface of the fingers covered with the smallest keratin bristles, which adheres to the supporting surface through van der Waals forces.

Now scientists have decided to go even further and study the surface of the bristles themselves to find out the reason for their increased stickiness.

It turned out that the bristles on the fingers of geckos are covered with an ultra-thin film of water-repellent lipids only a nanometer thick , or a billionth of a meter. This data was obtained using high-energy X-rays emitted from a particle accelerator called a synchrotron .

The synchrotron microscope showed that lipid molecules line the surface of the “hairs” in dense ordered rows. Since lipids are hydrophobic , the bristles covered with them literally push water molecules out from under them, which allows the gecko’s paws to adhere more tightly even to a wet surface.

Scientists have figured out why geckos can run even on wet walls 2
Pattern of the gecko foot surface: keratin bristles are marked in green, lipid molecules covering them are in gray

Geckos have already inspired engineers to build robots with prehensile arms and strong adhesive tapes, so the new research could be the basis for developing a material that retains grip even on wet surfaces.

Perhaps in the near future we will wear boots that will not slip on a freshly washed floor, or gloves that can safely hold tools in heavy rain.


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