A gecko’s ability to pretty much go where ever they please has stumped scientists until now. Researchers at Oregon State University discovered geckos have a series of branched hairs on their toes and can turn their ‘stickiness’ on/off at will.

These tiny hairs called ‘setae’ utilize Van der Waals force.

“These seta and their hierarchy can deform to make intimate contact with even very rough surfaces — resulting in millions of contact points that each are able to carry a small load,” said co-author Alex Greaney. The findings were published in the Journal of Applied Physics.

Greaney and his team along with the help of mathematical modeling were able to unveil the secret of a gecko’s toe stickiness. A gecko’s toes start non-sticky, but the stickiness activates depending on the angle of the toe hairs and the forces on the gecko. When climbing up a wall or along a ceiling, for example.

Researchers say the setae are also incredibly flexible. The tiny toe hairs can absorb incredible amounts of energy and redirect it. Handy when the lizard jumps long distances from one surface to another.

Those mathematical models also helped show how geckos can apply their body weight against a wall to counteract gravity. The tiny hairs are also incredibly strong. When the stickiness in their feet activate, the tiny hairs can support up to 50 times the body weight of the gecko.

Image above: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, Wikipedia

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