DEC 11, 2018 06:03 PM PST

Geckos Can Run Across Water, New Study Investigates How

Geckos are agile small reptiles that, with the help of their grippy little feet, sport the innate ability to scale vertical walls and perform incredible gliding stunts in the air. But as it would seem, these tiny creatures may also be adept at bolting across bodies of water in a pinch.

A lapsed still frame showing how the gecko runs across a body of water.

Image Credit: Pauline Jennings / PolyPEDAL Lab, UC Berkeley

Researchers from the University of California, Berkley allegedly discovered the behavior in the lab and later confirmed their findings in the wild after conducting field studies in Singapore. The results have appeared this week in the journal Current Biology.

“They can run up a wall at a meter per second, they can glide, they can right themselves in midair with a twist of their tail and rapidly invert under a leaf running at full speed. And now they can run at a meter per second over water. Nothing else can do that; geckos are superheroes,” commented Robert Full, a professor at UC Berkley and a co-author of the study.

Related: Why do some lizards have green blood?

The ability to run across a body of water isn’t unheard of in the animal kingdom; it’s common among insects, which are light enough not to break the delicate surface tension. Even the basilisk lizard – nicknamed the Jesus Christ Lizard for its abilities – can run across a body of water by cycling its legs so fast that it pushes against the water’s surface.

“Bigger animals can’t use surface tension, so they end up pushing and slapping the surface, which produces a force if you do it hard enough,” Full added.

But geckos aren’t technically big or small animals; instead, they’re somewhere in between. Consequently, they aren’t small enough to rely solely on surface tension to stay afloat, and they aren’t massive enough to push against the water as larger animals do. Instead, the researchers suggest, the geckos use a combination of two to four strategies to work their magic.

The researchers validated this theory after conducting experiments with flat-tailed house geckos (Hemidactylus platyurus) in the lab, which can be found everywhere in South and Southeast Asia.

As it would seem, surface tension plays an instrumental role in the geckos’ astonishing ability, but equally as important is the way they ‘slap’ their tiny feet across the surface of a body of water. This motion creates air cavities that prevent the rest of the gecko’s body from being sucked into the body of water as they glide across.

Also, the geckos take full advantage of their smooth, hydrophobic belly skin to glide across the water like a sled while simultaneously flapping their tail back and forth for added propulsion; this lets the reptiles ski across the water at high rates of speed to avoid predation when necessary.

Image Credit: PolyPEDAL lab graphic, UC Berkeley

“All are important to some extent, and geckos are unique in combining all these,” Full said.

Related: This lizard can drink water from the sand through its feet and back

Unfortunately, geckos aren’t quite as talented at running across a body of water as the famed basilisk lizard, that said, they can’t travel as far before the water eventually catches up to their reality-defying ruse.

Regardless, determining the hidden mechanisms that make this ability possible is vital for developing new technologies, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see more researchers begin studying the gecko’s water-running behavior in the future.

Source: UC Berkley, Current Biology

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
NOV 26, 2018
Plants & Animals
NOV 26, 2018
More Than 145 Whales Found Beached in New Zealand
Whale strandings have become quite the frequent occurrence in New Zealand, but a massive stranding reported over the weekend that involved at least 145 pil...
DEC 17, 2018
Plants & Animals
DEC 17, 2018
New Aquatic Salamander Species Described in New Study
A new aquatic salamander species has been discovered, and researchers are almost entirely sure it matches the description of a previously-unknown animal th...
DEC 27, 2018
Plants & Animals
DEC 27, 2018
Columbus Zoo Elephant Calf Dies At Just Three Weeks Old
In a sad turn of events this week, a baby female Asian elephant calf from Ohio’s Columbus Zoo and Aquarium passed away after coming down with a sudde...
JAN 15, 2019
Plants & Animals
JAN 15, 2019
Here's Why We Need to Protect Coral Reefs
Coral reefs do all sorts of great things for the environment. Not only do they act as underwater fortresses for smaller wildlife that require shelter from...
FEB 12, 2019
Plants & Animals
FEB 12, 2019
Man's Best Friend - Wildlife's Worst Enemy?
Established as one of man’s best friends, dogs can seemingly be found in almost every other household you visit. But while humans may enjoy dogs&rsqu...
FEB 16, 2019
Microbiology
FEB 16, 2019
Genetic Diversity is Helping Frogs Withstand an Epidemic
Some populations of frogs have been able to withstand a widespread epidemic of a deadly disease that is comparable to the Ebola virus in humans....
Loading Comments...