Research

Water-Walking Geckos

Many animals can run on water. The tiniest creatures, like water striders, use surface tension to keep themselves atop the water.  Larger creatures like the basilisk lizard or the grebe slap the water’s surface to generate a vertical impulse that keeps them aloft. Geckos, it turns out, can run on water, too, but they’re too big to stay up with surface tension and too small to support their weight by slapping. So they’ve developed their own method.

As you see in the top image, geckos use the slapping method for part of their support. Their slaps generate a little less than half of the force needed to keep them out of the water. 

Surface tension is an important component, too. Geckos are extremely water repellent, which helps boost the lift they get from surface tension. In the bottom image, you see a gecko attempting to run on soapy water, which has a lower surface tension. The gecko is mostly submerged and more swimming than running – a clear demonstration that surface tension is important to its water-walking.

Finally, the gecko undulates its body as it runs, much the way an alligator swims. The researchers suspect this helps the gecko generate forward thrust. Altogether, it creates a water-walking gait that, for now, is unique among observed mechanisms. (Image and research credit: J. Nirody et al.; via Ars Technica; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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