Researchers built a gecko-bot to study how geckos glide and crash land

A gecko perches on a leaf. A September study found that geckos are very good gliders, and their tails help stabilize them when they crash-land into tree trunks.

Enlarge / A gecko perches on a leaf. A September study found that geckos are very good gliders, and their tails help stabilize them when they crash-land into tree trunks. (credit: MPI for Intelligent Systems)

There’s rarely time to write about every cool science-y story that comes our way. So this year, we’re once again running a special Twelve Days of Christmas series of posts, highlighting one science story that fell through the cracks in 2020, each day from December 25 through January 5. Today: Asian flat-tails geckos gliding in the wild use their tails to stabilize the landing after colliding head-first into tree trunks.

There are plenty of examples of gliding animals: flying squirrels, for instance, as well as certain snakes, lizards, and frogs. Now we can add geckos to that list. Researchers caught Asian flat-tailed geckos gliding in the wild on high-speed video, and found they used their tails to stabilize the landing after colliding head-first into tree trunks, according to a paper published in September in the journal Nature Communications Biology. They verified the biomechanics by building a mini gecko-bot and simulating the gliding behavior in the lab.

As we’ve reported previously, the diminutive gecko is capable of some extraordinary feats of locomotion, zipping along vertical walls with ease and even running short distances across water. Precisely how they accomplish these feats has long interested scientists. For instance, geckos are known for being expert climbers, able to stick to any surface thanks to the tiny hair-like structures on the bottoms of their feet. The little lizards can also zip along the surface of water at high speeds to elude predators. They can’t do it for very long; the energy expenditure required is too great.

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