The decrease in hydrostatic pressure generated by octopus suckers adhering to wettable and non-wettable surfaces was measured using a flush-mounted miniature pressure transducer. The cavitation thresholds, or lowest sustainable pressures, of sea water on the same surfaces were also measured and were compared with the pressures generated by octopuses. It is shown that suckers can generate hydrostatic pressures below OMPa on moderately wettable surfaces. This disprovesthe commonly repeated assumption that suckers cannot produce pressures below a vacuum and suggests that the importance of suction in attachment mechanisms may have been overlooked. On epoxy, the lowest recorded pressure was −0.168MPa (0.268MPa or 2.66atm below ambient), and the octopus generated negative pressure in 35% of the pulls that were considered maximal efforts. The suckers never generated negative pressures on non-wettable surfaces. These results are in agreement with the range of pressures that sea water can sustain on the same surfaces. It is suggested, therefore, that cavitation, the failure of water in tension, limits the attachment force of suckers. The difference between the cavitation threshold of water in nature and the cavitation threshold of pure water is discussed.
- © 1991 by Company of Biologists