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How Do Geckos Stick to Walls? What Science Says

How Do Geckos Stick to Walls? What Science Says

Have you ever seen a gecko hanging upside down on your ceiling, untroubled by the dangers of falling? It can also run across it or up smooth walls at incredible speed. This brings up the age-old question; how do geckos stick to walls?

The short answer is that some species of geckos have “sticky feet” that use electrostatic induction and an adhesive force resulting from van der Waals forces. This includes the house gecko, tokay gecko, and crested gecko, but some common species like the leopard gecko do not have this ability.

Geckos have bulbous toes covered in hundreds of setae (microscopic hairs). Each set features hundreds of even smaller hair-like projections called spatulae, which make the van der Waals force effective. This force occurs when electrons from a gecko’s hair molecules and electrons from the wall molecules interact to form an electromagnetic attraction.

Does the gecko’s ability to scale vertical surfaces fascinate you? Read on

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How Do Geckos Stick to Walls?

Geckos can turn the stickiness of their feet on and off!

These fascinating creatures are not naturally sticky. However, they can stick to surfaces by maximizing the flexibility and extensibility of the hair-like structures on their bulbous toes.

A gecko’s toes have hundreds of setae that break into even smaller divisions called spatulae. When they need to dart up a wall or hang from a ceiling, they extend these hairs to make them get as close to a surface as possible. This kickstarts the van der Waals forces,1 which are a blend of forces that attract and repel.

Van Der Waals Forces

Van der Waals forces are intermolecular forces that occur because of the interaction between two different molecules. The molecules on a gecko’s feet interact with the molecules on a surface to create an electromagnetic attraction.

Although van der Waals forces are typically weak and negligible, they are more potent on a gecko’s feet because of the tiny size of the spatulae and how close they get to a surface. The adhesive force between each spatula and a surface is up to 0.4N.

Each foot has millions of spatulae that create an adhesive force of up to 10N or around 2.25 lbs. With all fours on a surface, the adhesive force created is more than sufficient to make a baby stick to a wall!

Are There Limitations to a Gecko’s Sticky Feet?

Geckos are great at sticking. They can stick to numerous dry surfaces, including rough walls and smooth glass. Still, their adhesive abilities have some limitations.

Research conducted on tokay geckos (Gekko gecko) at the University of Akron in Ohio showed that geckos struggle to maintain a firm grip on wet surfaces.1 Although they can still walk vertically on misted surfaces, they have little or no adhesive power on wet surfaces. Their ability also dramatically diminishes when they walk on dry surfaces with wet feet.

On dry ground and with dry feet, it takes up to 20N force for a gecko to slide. On the other hand, 1N force is enough to detach a gecko with wet feet from a dry surface. It takes as little as 0.5N force for a gecko with wet feet to lose its foothold on a wet surface.

Leopard gecko
Image Credit: Reinhold-Leitner, Shutterstock

4 Tips to Build a Positive Bond With Your Gecko

Geckos are not top of the list of the most social creatures. Although they don’t mind spending long hours alone, they also appreciate the attention offered during bonding sessions.

So, how do you build a positive bond with your gecko?

Here are four practical tips to help you and your scaly friend form a mutually loving bond.

1. Take Care of the Basics

A happy gecko will look bright and alert. It will swiftly move when exploring its tank and even peep to see who’s coming when it hears movement outside the tank. Moreover, it will have a full appetite and quickly approach the front glass when it’s time for a snack.

Generally, the signs of a happy gecko are not so different from those of a healthy one. The secret to safeguarding your scaly friend’s health and happiness is first to ensure you meet all its basic needs.

First, ensure the enclosure is spacious, well-ventilated and that it maintains the recommended light, heat, and humidity requirements. Also, provide sufficient amounts of dusted and gut-loaded live insects, calcium, and water.

For entertainment, your gecko merely needs climbing and hiding spots. Only worry about bonding with your pet once these basic needs are met.

2. Provide Attention

Geckos don’t necessarily get bored when they spend days in their enclosure. However, time outside the tank can offer an excellent opportunity for you to spend time with your pet and get to know it better. Some geckos tolerate handling more than others, however, so be sure to learn the recommendations for your particular pet.

Offering a food reward when handling your scaly buddy will make it associate spending time with you as a positive thing. This will make it more excited to get out of the tank, crawl on your hand or hang out on your shoulder. Be mindful that hand-feeding or tweezer-feeding your gecko can lead to biting, so offer treats sparingly.

Food incentives help build trust and a solid connection. Although geckos are not exactly the brainy type, they ultimately join the dots and get to know who their friends are.

crested gecko eating mealworm
Image Credit: MattiaATH, Shutterstock

3. Be Patient and Follow Its Lead

Geckos are prey to numerous predators. Although your scaly friend is safe in your home, it will still be wary of potential dangers. The quickest way for your bonding sessions to end before they begin is to get your gecko spooked by your fast or sudden movements.

Quietly approach the tank and make your signature sound to inform your pet of your arrival. Remain calm and confidently lower your hand into the tank (jerky or jittery movements are a big no-no).

If your scaly buddy remains in hiding or resists being picked up, offer a treat and walk away. It is better to try your luck once more after a few hours or a day.

4. Keep Your Excitement on a Leash

Geckos are capable of loving and being loved. With some patience, your scaly friend may eventually long for your daily (or occasional) bonding session. It will show excitement by darting up your hand each time you reach out to pick it from its tank.

Once you have formed a bond, it’s natural to get excited and look forward to the next time you’ll be hanging out with your gecko. The problem is that geckos are solitary creatures. If your scaly friend is well-fed and comfortable in its tank, it may not see the big deal in spending time with you.

Manage your expectations to avoid possible heartbreak.

Tangerine coloured skin Leopard Gecko in the palm of a man's hand
Image Credit: Fresh Stocks, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

Some geckos have the ability to pull off gravity-defying feats because of their bristly toes. Numerous studies have helped to demystify the exact cause of their sticky properties and have even inspired groundbreaking inventions.

Still, there’s a long way to go before scientists outpace nature and humans formulate technology to help soldiers and rescue personnel scale walls like geckos.

So what if a gecko encounters a wet patch when scaling up a wall? What happens if it loses its foothold?

This is where its tail comes in handy like an emergency fifth leg. By pitching its tail at a right angle to its body, this fascinating creature makes its body rotate to ensure it lands on its feet!

Featured Image Credit: BANK lloyd LIGHT, Shutterstock

The post How Do Geckos Stick to Walls? What Science Says appeared first on Pet Keen.

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