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Scientists Discover How Geckos Walk On Water

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One of the gecko's so-called superpowers is its ability to "walk" on water. Evidently, it does so with the help of surface tension and with slapping, paddling movements.   ( Pauline Jennings | PolyPEDAL Lab, UC Berkeley )

Geckos have many unique abilities, but running on water has got to be one of their most impressive feats. It has not been completely certain how they do this, but now researchers have unraveled the mystery of geckos’ remarkable ability.

Walking On Water

There are several creatures that can walk on water, with the smaller ones such as insects relying on surface tension, and larger-legged vertebrates relying on the forces generated by vigorous slapping. In fact, there are over a thousand species that can walk on water, and the mechanisms behind their abilities are already known. In the case of the lizard family, however, the strategies that each species uses can vary greatly.

In a new study published in the journal Current Biology, scientists were able to unravel the mechanisms behind the geckos’ incredible ability, and it seems to be a combination of different strategies.

Combination Strategy

In their experiment, researchers shot high-speed videos of the geckos moving in a long water tank, and observed that their water-walking abilities appears to stem from a combination of different strategies.

Evidently, just like smaller creatures, geckos seem to also be relying on surface tension to keep their head and upper body over the surface, but they also use vigorous surface slapping just like the larger vertebrates. The geckos also appeared to use their tails to swish the water for propulsion and lift, just like alligators do.

Furthermore, their bodies are also physically equipped with characteristics that are excellent for water walking, including the microstructures on the pads of gecko feet as well as their superhydrophobic skin.

Unique Strategy

Interestingly, when soap was added to the water, the geckos’ speed was cut in half, suggesting how important it is for geckos. It is even more interesting because of the fact that surface tension is typically highly important only in much smaller creatures, and has been seen to be unimportant for basilisks, lizards with water-walking abilities as well.

“By using a mix of strategies to move rapidly on the water surface geckos are able to run on water almost as fast as they do on land (10.5 body lengths per second). The discovery of the geckos’ unique strategy may be a hint for how bipedal water walking evolved in basilisks,” said study coauthor Judy Jinn of UC Berkeley.

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