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Scientists get a grip on gecko's secret

Stephen Humphries


A new scientific discovery about geckos has scientists climbing up the walls: Researchers have concluded that the lizards utilize subatomic molecular attraction to shimmy their way up vertical surfaces.

The key to geckos' cling lies in millions of microscopic hairs, called setae, that line their feet. A single hair can support the weight of an ant, thanks to forces of attraction resulting from interactions between the positive and negative charges of protons and electrons.

Cameras took 1,000 pictures a minute to help analyze the motion of geckos' feet. It was discovered that the geckos uncurl their toes slightly, which allows them to unstick the hairs on their feet - in much same the way that one peels tape off a surface.



Researcher Robert Full of Berkeley University in San Francisco, envisions adapting the geckos' secret for technological uses. "One could develop a general dry adhesive that stays clean. It would be velcro which doesn't require two pieces," he says in a telephone interview. If scientists successfully find a way to replicate these atomic forces, then such an adhesive could even be used underwater or in space.

The research was funded by IS Robotics Inc. The company has since copied the gecko's toe motion to develop a robot prototype that is able to climb walls (though not as fast as the reptiles) with pressure-sensitive glue adhesive on the machine's "feet."


Geckos are nature’s
little hit men

LARRY Manetti, the former "Magnum P.I." co-star, is working on a book about life behind the scenes of the show. I was flipping through an uncorrected proof of it with our entertainment writer Tim Ryan last week, hooting at some of his memories.

Hooting, because some of them are pretty wild, like when he describes the waters around Oahu as simply teeming with sharks. Manetti says that once, during a scene in the ocean with Tom Selleck, he was brushed by a 20-something-foot shark.

Maybe Manetti did have a close encounter with a shark, but it seems odd that about 30 pages later, he admits he made up an almost identical shark story for a national gossip newspaper.

One story I don't think he made up was that the one in which he rented a beachfront house for several thousand dollars a month, but moved out after a large cane spider came walking in through an open doorway. He and his wife simply could not live in a place infested with spiders the size of your hand.

It doesn't matter that cane spiders generally end up inside houses by accident and infrequently at that. What matters is that many people from the mainland can't understand what it's like to live in a place where the outdoors are sometimes indoors.

I have heard stories of college athletes who have quit the University of Hawaii and returned home after seeing one good-sized cockroach. I've had visitors reel back in horror at the sight of a run-of-mill gecko scurrying across the wall.

And I have to admit, the first time my brothers and I saw termites swarming around our house back in high school we freaked out, believing the end of the world was at hand.

NOW, I view geckos as a vital part of my household ecosystem. Sure, they poop all over the place, but they gobble up bugs left and right. If we didn't have geckos, someone would try to invent self-propelled, miniature, insect-tracking and elimination robots which couldn't do the job as well or as stealthily as geckos.

What we don't realize is that the rest of the country isn't like us. Houses are supposed to be hermetically sealed environments where anything that moves -- other than pets or humans -- is an unwanted alien intruder.

There are some places like that in Hawaii, but I haven't been in many of them. Instead, most of us have reached a level of detente with local wildlife that generally allows for peaceful co-existence, as long as the critters don't abuse the privilege.

For instance, one or two ants on the counter are expected. A line of 3,000 ants leading from the garage to the dog dish is a no-no.

Geckos who hide behind wall-hangings and only come out to snap up mosquitoes and other non-A-list insects are OK. Geckos who crawl across your back at night while you sleep get free airfare to the back yard.

Roaches the size of rubber slippers and, yes, Mr. Manetti, cane spiders, should be reminded that they are to remain outdoors. Those who do intrude, either on purpose or inadvertently, must be made an example of and dispatched with a severity so swift that it sends an unmistakable message to the rest of their species.

Centipedes, however, are a special case. Centipedes are mean, sneaky and heavily armed. They are to be wiped out wherever they may be found. If one enters the premises, then you must search out its relatives outside and prosecute them fully, with malice aforethought, extreme prejudice and, if handy, a machete.



Insect Dispenser for Lunching Lizards
Dishing Up Crickets

By Teresa Riordan Patent Columnist
What’s the yummiest, most nutritious meal for the average reptile? Crickets. They’re chockful of calcium and protein and other good things.
The Cricket Corral
When the snake wants a snack, reach for the Cricket Corral (Pet Tech)
     Plus, they are inexpensive, which makes them the meal of choice for anyone who happens to have a pet snake or a frog or a lizard.
     Indeed, they are so popular that most pet stores sell from 8,000 to 10,000 of them a week.
     Problem is, crickets are just so icky. You have to buy them fresh from the pet store every other day or so. (Reptiles are finicky eaters—no dead crickets, please.)
     And every time you open the container to give your sweet little gecko a treat, there’s the chance that of few of those crickets will go AWOL, leaping to some nether region of the house so they can wake you at 2 a.m. with their boastful, nose-thumbing chirps.

Pez Dispenser for Crickets
Darby Cunningham and David Rose recently received U.S. patent 5,630,374 for a device that they say turns reptile feeding into an orderly, nontraumatic affair.
     Think of it as a Pez dispenser for crickets. Essentially, it’s a plastic container with a 9-inch-long tube sticking out of the top. The idea is that you put a few dozen crickets inside the container, place the cover on top and then stick in the tube, which is capped with a top that has tiny air holes punched into it.
     Pretty soon, all of the crickets will have climbed up into the tube, and you won’t see any in the container itself.
     “We took advantage of the natural instincts of a cricket—which is to climb and hide in a dark place,” Rose says.
     The inside of the tube has an “attractive dark interior,” Rose’s patent notes, that is rough in texture so crickets hang on easily.

Icky No Longer
When your bearded dragon gets a cricket craving, pull the tube off and shake out a few critters.
     “You just give it a little tap and they begin to fall out,” Rose says.
     The hungrier your pet, the more you tap. When you’re done, insert the tube back into the container.
     Produced by Pet Tech of Van Nuys, Calif., the Cricket Corral retails for about $7. It features pictures of cowboy lizards lassoing and branding crickets.
     So far, the Cricket Corral is especially popular among mothers, Rose notes.
     “Moms can be squeamish about dealing with them,” he says. “But with this, you don’t have to touch them at all.”

Some Basic Gecko Genetics (Page 1)

This article will (hopefully) provide the reader with an understanding of some very basic gecko genetics as they relate to breeding. Note that I said basic genetics; These examples contain no biological explanations, just the facts. I am not a biologist, however the information provided is a result of a combination of my education and experience.

The easiest way to present this overview is through photo examples. The following examples will use one of the most popular gecko breeding projects, the leucistic leopard gecko.

This is the normal phase
This is the so-called leucistic phase
Some Basic Gecko Genetics (Page 2)

Let's say the normal phase gecko on the left is a female. That would leave the leucistic gecko on the right; Let's say that this one is a male.

If you placed this pair together, and they bred successfully, the female may lay 3 sets of two eggs. A total of six eggs, but to keep this simple, let's say that the female only laid one set of two eggs. All of the offsping from this pair will be heterozyguos for leucistic. This means that each baby will carry the gene for the leucistic trait, but will appear normal to the eye. These babies would be called "Hets"

+ =
Some Basic Gecko Genetics (Page 3)

Okay, We will now take the original leucistic female and breed her with one of the "Het" offspring. Just for example, lets again say that the leucistic female lays one set of two eggs. The resulting offspring would be one half leucistic (showing the trait) and the remaining half will be normal in appearance, but will possess the trait for leucistic (Hets.)

+ (Het) = (Het)
Some Basic Gecko Genetics (end)

With two full leucistics now, and projecting that we have both a male and a female, we will breed these two to each other. The resulting babies from the two leucistics will all be full leucistics, showing the trait. Note: Breeding a normal to a het or two hets to each-other is far more complicated than this and involves percentages of offspring. If you desire further information regarding genetics, Reptiles magazine's April 1998 issue has an excellent article on breeding genetics.



This page was last updated on 11/08/01.

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