Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Geckos get more and more interesting

Seems there's an animal trend to tonight's posts. I may as well keep it going.

The humble gecko has already given rise to two scientific breakthroughs: a super-strong, super-sticky tape to bond to anything, and a dissolving bandage. The bandage can be applied internally during surgery, and will stick regardless of blood or other fluids on or beneath it. After a few weeks it dissolves naturally. Sounds a lot better than internal stitches (and having had the latter on more than one occasion, I'm all in favor of any improvement!).

According to a BBC report, further studies of the gecko have revealed that its tail is a powerful aid to aerodynamic steering during flight.

Professor Full said: "We set up an experiment where we could see what would happen if a gecko fell off of the underside of a leaf.

"They started off with their backs to the ground, but when they start to fall, they swoosh around their tails, and by doing this they are able to rotate themselves so they move into a sky-diving or 'superman' pose."

This enabled the gecko to land on its feet, he told the BBC News website.

While other animals, such as cats, can rotate their bodies when falling to manoeuvre into a safer landing posture, the gecko is one of the few to use its tail to do this.

Before landing, the creature's tail can come into use yet again.

Professor Full explained: "We put them in a vertical wind tunnel, and we found they could glide stably and use their tails to turn: they sweep it one way, they turn left; they sweep it the other way, they turn right."

In the wild, this kind of manoeuvring ability would allow the animal to direct its aerial descent to land on a perch rather than hitting the ground if it fell out of the rainforest canopy, he added.

The researchers believe the gecko's active tail could inspire engineers.

"This discovery is another example of how basic research leads to unexpected applications - new climbing and gliding robots, highly manoeuvrable unmanned aerial vehicles and even energy-efficient control in space vehicles," said Professor Full.

There's some remarkable video clips at the BBC report. Click over there to watch them for yourselves.

I marvel at how scientists can beat their brains out trying to figure out how to accomplish something . . . only to find that Mother Nature has already got the answer, if only we'll look for it. You go, gecko!


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