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How geckos stay clean

Gianna Grün
March 18, 2015

Geckos are known for cool attributes like an ability to walk on the ceiling. But researchers recently discovered another enviable trait: gecko skin is self-cleaning.

photo: blue gecko
Geckos don’t need to shower regularly to stay a bright-shiny blue. They’re self-cleaningImage: picture-alliance/Hippocampus-Bildarchiv

Do you ever think it would be cool if you could walk through dusty streets in summer and not need to clean yourself or your shoes afterward? Then you should trying being a gecko in your next life.

The little reptiles are already a walking collection of cool features, and now researchers have discovered a new one to add to the list - namely gecko skin's self-cleaning mechanism.

Geckos have been widely studied for the tiny hairs on their feet that are so sticky, they allow the reptiles to climb vertical glass surfaces, for example. In an almost regrettable tone, the Australian researchers from James Cook University in Queensland behind the new study note in their introduction "the remaining regions of the lizard body received very little attention." So it seems an investigation into what other magical properties the scaly animal's skin might be hiding was long overdue.

future now # Bionik: Wie aus Geckofüßen Hightech wird (englisch) # 14.02.2011

Study reveals popcorn-like mechanism

The study, entitled "Removal mechanisms of dew via self-propulsion off the gecko skin," found little water-droplets that form via condensation on the gecko’s surface autonomously jump like popcorn off the animal’s skin as they merge and release energy - taking all the dirt and dust with them.

Until now, similar so-called "propulsion" mechanisms had only been observed in insect wings, which like gecko skin are covered in tiny hair-like spines that appear to help the self-cleaning processes.

The main advantage of the propulsion mechanism for insects is that their wings have to stay dry to function properly. And it seems it may have other advantages for the little lizards too. As microorganisms like bacteria thrive in humid conditions, propulsion may also help prevent infections.

Researchers are now looking into possible applications of the mechanism for marine-based electronics.

photo: scaly gecko
The reptiles are often found in wet environments like rain forests, but can also be found in dusty, dry deserts.Image: picture-alliance/Anka Agency
Electron-microscope photo: Gecko’s hairy feet
Some creatures have hair on their heads, geckos have them on their feet. The hairs help them stick to surfaces and in climbing walls.Image: eye of science/Oliver Meckes
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