New research shows just how stick geckos’ feet are. Scientists say each of the hairs on each of their toes is sticky, allowing them to stick to surfaces and climb walls with ease. In fact, they’re able to so easily stick and unstick their feet that they can run across any surface at a rate of 20 body lengths per second.

geckos feet stick

How sticky are geckos’ feet?

Researchers say geckos are able to move so well when climbing surfaces or walking upside because they are easily able to turn their feet’s stickiness on and off.

Scientists have long been interested in gecko feet. Their properties have helped scientists come up with some interesting technology. Some of the technology that has resulted from studying gecko feet includes tech for sealing wounds without stitching and creating handheld paddles that might help soldiers climb walls at some point in the future. Also researchers have been studying gecko toes for the last ten years to develop manmade adhesives with tiny fibers that are able to do the same work as the hairs on the toes of geckos.

Geckos have hundreds of hairs

Researchers say the reason geckos are able to stick to surfaces so well and move so quickly is because their toes have hundreds of microscopic hairs that are called setae. Each of the hairs splits down further into hundreds of even smaller bristles that are called spatula. Geckos then use something called the van der Walls force to jet across surfaces. This type of force occurs when electrons in the lizard’s hair molecules interact with electrons from the molecules of the wall and cause them to stick to each other.

Scientists now have a further understanding of how the balance of forces enables geckos to stick to surfaces. Oregon State University engineering professor Alex Greaney, who lead the study, said geckos themselves aren’t actually stick. He added that they have to “do something” to make themselves sticky.

“It’s this incredible synergy of the flexibility, angle and extensibility of the hairs that makes it possible,” he said.

Greaney’s research team created a mathematical model to show how the forces act on geckos as they climb in order to create a strong but delicate sticking system.