Here’s how geckos (almost) walk on water
High-speed video reveals the physics of how the animals move almost as fast in water as on land
Add water aerobics to the list of the agile gecko’s athletic accomplishments.
In addition to sticking to smooth walls and swinging from leaves, geckos can skitter along the surface of water. By slapping the water with all four limbs to create air bubbles and exploiting the surface tension of water, the reptiles can travel at speeds close to what they can achieve on land, according to a new analysis of high-speed video footage described December 6 in Current Bi ol ogy.
In the world of water walkers, geckos occupy an awkward intermediate turf, says study coauthor Jasmine Nirody, a biophysicist at Rockefeller University in New York City and the University of Oxford. Small insects like water striders use surface tension, created by water molecules sticking together, to stay afloat. Bigger animals like basilisk lizards slap the surface of the water, creating air pockets around their feet that reduce drag and keep the lizards mostly above the water’s surface. But an animal needs to be fairly large to generate enough force to hold itself out of the water using that st r at egy.
“Geckos fall smack-dab in the middle” size-wise, Nirody says. “They shouldn't really be able to do this at all.” And yet, when her colleague Ardian Jusufi of the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany, was on a research trip in Singapore, he noticed small geckos skittering across the surface of puddles.
Back in the lab, the team filmed eight flattailed house geckos (Hemidactylus platyurus) crossing a tank of water, then slowed the footage to get a closer look at the action.
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ON THE MOVE This composite image tracks the gait of a gecko as it crosses a tank of water, staying at the surface by slapping the water with its feet and getting some extra help from surface tension.