Scientists already know that the tiny hairs on geckos' toe pads enable them to cling to vertical surfaces.
And now University of Akron researchers are unfolding clues to the reptiles' gripping power in wet conditions to create a synthetic adhesive that sticks even on moist or wet surfaces.
Place a single water droplet on the sole of a gecko toe, and the pad repels water. The anti-wetting property helps explain how geckos maneuver in rainy tropical conditions, the Journal of Experimental Biology reports.
However, saturate that same toe pad in water or drench the surface on which it climbs, and adhesion slips away, researchers say, according to an Akron statement.
Alyssa Stark, doctoral candidate in Akron's Integrated Bioscience Program and research team leader, explains that geckos don't fall from trees during downpours in the tropics. What, then, makes them stick?
The team hopes to make that discovery to create synthetic materials that hold their grip in wet environments, such as inside the body, for surgical procedures.
"We're gathering many clues about how geckos interact with wet surfaces, and this gives us ideas of how to design adhesives that work under water," says Ali Dhinojwala, professor of polymer science at Akron.