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PLoS One. 2013 Dec 11;8(12):e81943. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0081943. eCollection 2013.

Functionally different pads on the same foot allow control of attachment: stick insects have load-sensitive "heel" pads for friction and shear-sensitive "toe" pads for adhesion.

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


Stick insects (Carausius morosus) have two distinct types of attachment pad per leg, tarsal "heel" pads (euplantulae) and a pre-tarsal "toe" pad (arolium). Here we show that these two pad types are specialised for fundamentally different functions. When standing upright, stick insects rested on their proximal euplantulae, while arolia were the only pads in surface contact when hanging upside down. Single-pad force measurements showed that the adhesion of euplantulae was extremely small, but friction forces strongly increased with normal load and coefficients of friction were [Formula: see text] 1. The pre-tarsal arolium, in contrast, generated adhesion that strongly increased with pulling forces, allowing adhesion to be activated and deactivated by shear forces, which can be produced actively, or passively as a result of the insects' sprawled posture. The shear-sensitivity of the arolium was present even when corrected for contact area, and was independent of normal preloads covering nearly an order of magnitude. Attachment of both heel and toe pads is thus activated partly by the forces that arise passively in the situations in which they are used by the insects, ensuring safe attachment. Our results suggest that stick insect euplantulae are specialised "friction pads" that produce traction when pressed against the substrate, while arolia are "true" adhesive pads that stick to the substrate when activated by pulling forces.

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