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March 18, 2008

The tale of the tape, gecko-style

Posted: 09:16 AM ET

For all you geckophiles out there who may still be basking in the gecko-fix we gave you last week at the page on the topic of gecko bandages, you may be interested to know there is more gecko-news this week.

Source: Getty Images

Geckos, of course, are known as some of the most sure-footed climbers in the animal kingdom...with hairy toes that can stick and unstick themselves to a surface in just milliseconds, making it possible to run 15 body lengths up a vertical incline in 1 second flat. Fast, yes...and stable too. But what happens if he misses a step?

Publishing in this week's edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley shot high-speed film of geckos running up a vertical climbing surface that had been outfitted with a slippery patch. Slow motion playback clearly shows that when the gecko looses his footing, he instantaneously swings his tail into action - tapping it down like a fifth leg to stabilize himself. In extreme cases, he even plants it like a kickstand to give himself a chance to recover.

What if he should fall? It turns out geckos are like cats...they always land on their feet. The tail comes into play there, too...the gecko rotates it in midair until he rights his body in time to glide to a graceful landing.

So what are the practical implications of this research? Engineers are already putting it to work, designing gecko-inspired climbing robots that are programmed to put their tails to good use.

–Kate Tobin, Senior Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Animals • Geckos

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Dave   March 18th, 2008 9:50 am ET

Who really cares how a Gecko climbs, falls, or recovers except maybe for Warren Buffet and his GICO insurance company? I mean come on, can't folks put their efforts to better use than this nonsince?

Paul Willeford   March 18th, 2008 10:01 am ET

Thanks for the gecko information. I am 60 years old and did not know these facts about the gecko. I really enjoyed reading this information and hope you will provide further information about other animals.

2.0 Weblogs   March 18th, 2008 11:43 am ET

MMmmmm so delicious, I love to eat Geckos, Rarr!

Dave   March 18th, 2008 12:52 pm ET

Interesting . . . How did this save me money on my insurance?

Bryan   March 18th, 2008 1:15 pm ET

Some of the most important discoveries in science have come from doing "basic science" - research that has no immediate practical application, but is interesting from a scientific point of view, and may result in useful products some time in the future. (

Each piece of research builds on research done before it resulting in a collective understanding of our world that no one person could ever achieve on their own. Additionally, results from such basic research often spur entire industries (and fortunes) that produce products that we rely on in today's modern world. Wikipedia defines Serendipity as "the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely." For an interesting list of serendipitous discoveries in science, check out this wikipedia entry (

robogeek   March 18th, 2008 2:22 pm ET

If you're wondering where this particular research might go and has gone you can check out the RiSE project
which used gecko feet as motivation for their research

Edu-Sponge   March 18th, 2008 6:52 pm ET

Reaserch such as this may appear "a waste of time & money" but like someone else said...these are springboards to larger concepts and uses.

Many products you use today were "accidents" or the result of research just like this.

: )

Vexxarr   March 20th, 2008 3:15 pm ET

A few items revealed through frivolous research:

Microwave cooking
X-Ray Photography
DNA (via wrinkly peas)

As to the humble gecko, robots exist that are used to scour, paint and inspect ship's hulls. They are very slow because they either use magnets or vacuum pumps to adhere to vertical surfaces. Using a derivative of the gecko adhesion principle would mean rapid movement and a 'sticky' that doesn't wear rapidly or require frequent replacement.

I'm personally enjoying life in the 21st century – without you apparently.

Mr. Spock   March 27th, 2008 1:30 am ET

Engineering a robot which resembles the gecko and it's abilities, would be quite useful and reliable to explore the moon or Mars. Could be an inspiration for future robot design.

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