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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Jan 11;102(2):385-9. Epub 2005 Jan 3.

Evidence for self-cleaning in gecko setae.

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  • 1Department of Physics and Biology, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, OR 97219, USA.


A tokay gecko can cling to virtually any surface and support its body mass with a single toe by using the millions of keratinous setae on its toe pads. Each seta branches into hundreds of 200-nm spatulae that make intimate contact with a variety of surface profiles. We showed previously that the combined surface area of billions of spatulae maximizes van der Waals interactions to generate large adhesive and shear forces. Geckos are not known to groom their feet yet retain their stickiness for months between molts. How geckos manage to keep their feet clean while walking about with sticky toes has remained a puzzle until now. Although self-cleaning by water droplets occurs in plant and animal surfaces, no adhesive has been shown to self-clean. In the present study, we demonstrate that gecko setae are a self-cleaning adhesive. Geckos with dirty feet recovered their ability to cling to vertical surfaces after only a few steps. Self-cleaning occurred in arrays of setae isolated from the gecko. Contact mechanical models suggest that self-cleaning occurs by an energetic disequilibrium between the adhesive forces attracting a dirt particle to the substrate and those attracting the same particle to one or more spatulae. We propose that the property of self-cleaning is intrinsic to the setal nanostructure and therefore should be replicable in synthetic adhesive materials in the future.

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