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J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2008 Apr;194(4):373-84. doi: 10.1007/s00359-008-0314-6. Epub 2008 Jan 25.

Micromechanics of smooth adhesive organs in stick insects: pads are mechanically anisotropic and softer towards the adhesive surface.

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Department of Cellular Neurobionics, Institute of Biology 2, RWTH-Aachen, Kopernikusstr. 16, 52068, Aachen, Germany.


Animals have evolved adhesive structures on their legs to cling to the substrate during locomotion. Here we characterise the ultrastructure and mechanical properties of adhesive pads in Carausius morosus (Phasmatodea) using atomic force microscopy (AFM) as well as transmission and scanning electron microscopy (TEM, SEM). The smooth adhesive arolium has a soft cuticle consisting of principal rods, which branch into finer fibres near the surface. Indentation experiments showed that the pad material consists of distinct layers with different mechanical properties. The 100-300 nm thick outermost layer consisting of the cuticulin envelope and the epicuticle is extremely soft and resilient (mean effective Young's modulus 12 kPa), while the subjacent procuticle is a much stiffer material (mean effective Young's modulus 625 kPa). AFM contact mode imaging revealed that the cuticle is mechanically anisotropic, which can be explained by its fibrillar inner structure. We propose that the described layered structure of smooth adhesive pads, consisting of materials decreasing in stiffness towards the outer surface, represents a superior design to conform and adhere to substrates with roughnesses at different length scales. This design principle could be easily implemented in technical adhesives, and thus has a potential to inspire biomimetic applications.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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