Self-Drying: A Gecko's Innate Ability to Remove Water from Wet Toe Pads

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 7-23-2014


When the adhesive toe pads of geckos become wet, they become ineffective in enabling geckos to stick to substrates. This result is puzzling given that many species of gecko are endemic to tropical environments where water covered surfaces are ubiquitous. We hypothesized that geckos can recover adhesive capabilities following exposure of their toe pads to water by walking on a dry surface, similar to the active self-cleaning of dirt particles. We measured the time it took to recover maximum shear adhesion after toe pads had become wet in two groups, those that were allowed to actively walk and those that were not. Keeping in mind the importance of substrate wettability to adhesion on wet surfaces, we also tested geckos on hydrophilic glass and an intermediately wetting substrate (polymethylmethacrylate; PMMA). We found that time to maximum shear adhesion recovery did not differ in the walking groups based on substrate wettability (22.7±5.1 min on glass and 15.4±0.3 min on PMMA) but did have a significant effect in the non-walking groups (54.3±3.9 min on glass and 27.8±2.5 min on PMMA). Overall, we found that by actively walking, geckos were able to self-dry their wet toe pads and regain maximum shear adhesion significantly faster than those that did not walk. Our results highlight a unexpected property of the gecko adhesive system, the ability to actively self-dry and recover adhesive performance after being rendered dysfunctional by water.

Publication Title

Plos one