Gecko's secret to cleanliness could find applications in human tech

One of the box-patterned geckos used in the study (Photo: James Cook University)

Usually when we hear about the properties of geckos being applied to human technology, it's the reptiles' sticky feet that are in question. Now, however, scientists in Australia are looking at the manner in which a particular type of gecko is able to stay clean. Their findings could pave the way for things like water-repelling electronics, or clothes that never need washing.

The study involves researchers from Australia's James Cook University, University of the Sunshine Coast, The University of Queensland, and the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, along with the University of Oxford in the UK.

They're studying the box-patterned gecko, which typically lives in semi-arid environments. While you might expect the creature to be dusty much of the time, it's virtually always quite clean.

The scientists discovered that this is due to hundreds of thousands of tiny hair-like spines that cover its body. Air pockets are trapped underneath these, keeping water droplets from adhering to the skin. Instead, those droplets bead up and roll away, grabbing particles of dirt, microbes or other contaminants as they go. What's more, when two of the droplets merge and release energy, they actually jump off of the spines like popcorn.

Given that there's little rain where the geckos are commonly found, it's assumed that the water comes in the form of dew that condenses on the reptiles overnight.

While hydrophobic surfaces that work in this manner have been observed on plants and insects before, this is reportedly the first known instance of one in a vertebrate animal.

Top stories

Recommended for you

Latest in Biology

Editors Choice