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PLoS One. 2011;6(5):e20485. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0020485. Epub 2011 May 26.

Arachnids secrete a fluid over their adhesive pads.

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Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom.



Many arachnids possess adhesive pads on their feet that help them climb smooth surfaces and capture prey. Spider and gecko adhesives have converged on a branched, hairy structure, which theoretically allows them to adhere solely by dry (solid-solid) intermolecular interactions. Indeed, the consensus in the literature is that spiders and their smooth-padded relatives, the solifugids, adhere without the aid of a secretion.


We investigated the adhesive contact zone of living spiders, solifugids and mites using interference reflection microscopy, which allows the detection of thin liquid films. Like insects, all the arachnids we studied left behind hydrophobic fluid footprints on glass (mean refractive index: 1.48-1.50; contact angle: 3.7-11.2°). Fluid was not always secreted continuously, suggesting that pads can function in both wet and dry modes. We measured the attachment forces of single adhesive setae from tarantulas (Grammostola rosea) by attaching them to a bending beam with a known spring constant and filming the resulting deflection. Individual spider setae showed a lower static friction at rest (26%±2.8 SE of the peak friction) than single gecko setae (Thecadactylus rapicauda; 96%±1.7 SE). This may be explained by the fact that spider setae continued to release fluid after isolation from the animal, lubricating the contact zone.


This finding implies that tarsal secretions occur within all major groups of terrestrial arthropods with adhesive pads. The presence of liquid in an adhesive contact zone has important consequences for attachment performance, improving adhesion to rough surfaces and introducing rate-dependent effects. Our results leave geckos and anoles as the only known representatives of truly dry adhesive pads in nature. Engineers seeking biological inspiration for synthetic adhesives should consider whether model species with fluid secretions are appropriate to their design goals.

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