Geckos’ new superpower is running on water; now we know how they do it

Geico's sophisticated gecko opts for a speedboat, but if he wanted, he could totally run across the water.

Enlarge / Geico’s
sophisticated gecko opts for a speedboat, but if he wanted, he
could totally run across the water. (credit: Youtube/Geico)

Geckos are known for being expert climbers, able to
stick to any surface
thanks to the billions of tiny hair-like
structures on the bottoms of their feet. Now it turns out the
little lizards can also zip along the surface of water at high
speeds to elude predators. They can’t do it for very long; the
energy expenditure required is too great. But it’s amazing they can
do it at all. Scientists think they’ve pinpointed the mechanisms
behind the feat, described in a
new paper
in Cell Biology.

The project started when co-author Ardian Jusufi, then a postdoc
in the lab of University of California, Berkeley biophysicist
Robert Full, was on vacation in Singapore during monsoon season.
One day, after a big rain storm, he caught a gecko skimming across
the water to escape a predator on video. The footage astounded
everyone in the lab when he showed it to them. “It was super weird
and unexpected, so naturally we had to test this,” says co-author
Jasmine Nirody, another former Full student who now splits her time
between Rockefeller University and the University of Oxford.

There are several creatures in nature capable of walking on
water, but they employ different mechanisms depending on their
size. Small, lightweight water striders, for instance, rely
entirely on surface tension to stay afloat, while the larger,
heavier basilisk lizards employ a slapping motion with their feet
that creates pockets of air bubbles to keep from sinking. The
standard theoretical calculations set very strict boundaries for
how small an animal has to be to use surface tension and how large
it needs to be before the surface slapping mechanism is viable.

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Source: FS – All – Science – News
Geckos’ new superpower is running on water; now we know how they do it