Friday, May 29, 2015

On How Awesome Gecko Feet Are

When my colleagues are not totally sick of hearing me talk, we have an occasional segment in the office known as "this week in Zoology". I work with people who have a background predominantly in Neuroscience, Molecular Biology and Genetics, whereas I got my degree in Zoology. Given this, I know quite a few random and awesome facts about animals, permanently stored in my brain, so I figured why not repeat a few of them here? The very first thing we talked about was the fractal feet of geckos.

Lets start with talking about what a fractal actually is. A fractal is a mathematical concept which is often observed in nature, in which a pattern is maintained at every scale of resolution. This can be seen in branching of biological structures, in which one branch has many branches, each of which has many branches, each of those having other branches etc. This is how gecko feet are structured, which is the secret to their success with climbing virtually any kind of surface.

A snarky way to learn about fractals

Researchers noticed that, among creatures who could crawl on vertical surfaces, geckos are pretty much the best at it. Trying to pull a gecko off the wall can result in ripping its legs from its body, rather than removing the whole animal. So, how do they manage to stick to a surface so well, and at the same time crawl over it so rapidly? Is it suction cups? Electricity? Attempting to coat the surface with oils, changing the materials or passing electrical currents through them led to no changes in the gecko's ability to climb. Finally, they looked at the gecko's toes, and therein was the answer.


It turns out, a gecko's toes are structured like a fractal, they are branched into smaller and smaller structures, until ultimately they can squeeze between the molecules of the surface, taking advantage of the molecule-to-molecule interactions of the surface in order to stick to them.

How amazingly cool is that??!! They are actually penetrating the molecular structure of your wall!

Any random animals you don't think can be cool? Name them in the comments and lets see if I can scare up any ancient memories of weird facts about them!

No comments:

Post a Comment