Despite profound interest in the mechanics and performance of the gecko adhesive system, relatively few studies have focused on performance under conditions that are ecologically relevant to the natural habitats of geckos. Because geckos are likely to encounter surfaces that are wet, we used shear force adhesion measurements to examine the effect of surface water and toe pad wetting on the whole-animal performance of a tropical-dwelling gecko (Gekko gecko). To test the effect of surface wetting, we measured the shear adhesive force of geckos on three substrate conditions: dry glass, glass misted with water droplets and glass fully submerged in water. We also investigated the effect of wetting on the adhesive toe pad by soaking the toe pads prior to testing. Finally, we tested for repeatability of the adhesive system in each wetting condition by measuring shear adhesion after each step a gecko made under treatment conditions. Wetted toe pads had significantly lower shear adhesive force in all treatments (0.86±0.09 N) than the control (17.96±3.42 N), as did full immersion in water (0.44±0.03 N). Treatments with droplets of water distributed across the surface were more variable and did not differ from treatments where the surface was dry (4.72±1.59 N misted glass; 9.76±2.81 N dry glass), except after the gecko took multiple steps. These findings suggest that surface water and the wetting of a gecko's adhesive toe pads may have significant consequences for the ecology and behavior of geckos living in tropical environments.
Support for this research was provided by the Choose Ohio First Tiered Mentoring Program at the University of Akron.
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