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The Biology Inspiring
the Latest Technology


Why Geckos Don't Fall Off Walls

The underside of a gecko's foot (right) and an enlargement of the tip of a gecko's foot.

The underside of a gecko's foot (right) and an enlargement of the tip of a gecko's foot. (C) NITTO DENKO CORPORATION

What is it that allows geckos to walk across slippery walls and ceilings without falling off? At first, scientists thought maybe their toes secreted a kind of sticky substance, or that their feet had suckers like an octopus's. But in fact, research revealed that there are more than one million little hairs growing on a gecko's foot. And at the tip of each of these hairs is an even finer hair, tiny enough to fit into the cracks and indentations in even the smoothest wall. These hairs give geckos their remarkable sticking power.

An experiment hanging a plastic bottle.

An experiment hanging a plastic bottle. (C) NITTO DENKO CORPORATION

Inventors at one company found that by inserting some 10 billion carbon nanotubes (a tiny cylindrical substance made from carbon atoms) onto an area just one square centimeter in size, they could suspend a plastic bottle weighing 500g from a sheet just one fourth the size of a stamp. This discovery made it possible to develop an adhesive tape that uses the same sticking power as a gecko's feet.

The Mosquito and Shots Without Tears

At one time or other you have probably wished there was a needle that could give shots that don't hurt. As it happens, this wish may soon come true thanks to a little critter that lots of human beings are only too familiar with: the mosquito. The reason you don't feel pain right away when you get stung by a mosquito is that the stinging part of the mosquito (called the proboscis) is jagged and only comes into contact with a small area of your skin, so that there is no friction between the mosquito's spike and your arm. This led scientists to invent a needle for taking blood that mimics the shape of a mosquito's proboscis. The needle dissolves inside the body after use. Much better than the old, painful kind of needles, don't you think?

A mosquito's proboscis.

A mosquito's proboscis.

Life in the natural world can be harsh and unforgiving, and animals have evolved to become ideally adapted to their environment. Products like the ones described above, which take inspiration from animals' natural technology, remind us of how amazing nature really is. We can't wait to see the products based on this research when they appear on the market!

(Updated in October 2010)