The Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change

is a research museum of the Leibniz Association

Gecko feet and plant surface microstructures



Quick facts

Project title: 
Interactions of gecko feet and plant surface microstructures
Object of research: 
Geckos, Interactions, plant surface, Gecko feet


Animal locomotion is replete with examples of elaborate behavioral and morphological novelties that enhance performance. The adhesive apparatus of geckos is one such innovation, permitting locomotion in challenging micro-environments, such as on vertical or inverted smooth surfaces including smooth leaves, bamboo, and banana. This remarkable system generally involves a complex hierarchy of components: setae (microscopic beta-keratin hair-like structures), scansors (expanded digital scales), and modified skeletal elements, muscles and tendons of the foot and other parts of the limb. The mechanism of adhesive contact involves electrostatic interactions and van der Waals and capillary forces.
The effective use of these morphological modifications is associated with altered locomotor kinematics. Despite our growing knowledge of gecko adhesion and its impact on locomotion, we know almost nothing about the intricate interactions between the hair-like structures on the ventral surface of the toes and the surfaces on which geckos move in nature. Unraveling the factors that actually facilitate or impede adhesion will be critical for inspiring the development of new adhesives and robots that mimic gecko adhesive properties, but will also be critical for understanding the evolution of adhesion. This research will be both transformative and broadly interesting to engineers, biomechanists, evolutionary biologists, and ecologists.
We will use the unparalleled collections and live animal facilities at the Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum A. Koenig and the resources at the Botanic Garden at the University of Freiburg.