Sticky feet

The sticky feet of some amazing animals

Sticky feet

I love mini-beasts, but what is the deal with wasps? Are they actually good for anything? I was in a mad rush to get the kids to a club earlier this week so was seriously unimpressed to find my car covered in wasps. I managed to smuggle the kids into the car unscathed and zoomed off. Half way down the road I noticed a determined wasp clinging to my window and found the perfect use for a wasp…an experiment! I decided to test the maximum speed a wasp can go, still clinging to a window (obviously within legal limits). The result of this experiment was astonishing. I got up to 50 miles an hour! and the little buzzer was still hanging on! I then had to wind my window down to pay a toll so didn’t get to see how much faster it could go. The conclusion – Wasps have very sticky feet!

What is it about their feet that make them so adhesive? Like bees and other insects wasp feet are like something from a sci-fi film. They have three levels of stickiness that they can trigger in response to the surface they are on. Level 1, for rough surfaces, they use a pair of claws that can grip ridges and bumps. Smooth surfaces like a plastered wall will trigger level 2 where the claws retract revealing an adhesive pad. For seriously smooth surfaces like the polished glass of a car window the wasp moves to maximum stickiness level 3 where the pad oozes sticky fluid acting like a Pritt Stick.

The incredible way insect feet stick, with alien-style action has inspired robotics scientists to try to create robots that can walk and stick to a huge range of surfaces including human cells. The idea is that these tiny robots go inside the body to investigate and diagnose disease more accurately, without the need for invasive surgery. Scientists are also testing the adhesive goo to find out what it is made from and whether it could be made in a lab for use in building materials.

Nature has given us the inspiration for just about all our sticking techniques. Plant seeds sticking to George de Mestral’s dog’s coat led him to invent Velcro.

But the prize for most inspirational sticky feet goes to the Gecko. With hundreds of tiny hairs that form the pads on their feet the Gecko bonds with just about any surface. They bond through exchange of electrical charges in the same way that atoms bond to each other to form molecules. This process is so successful they do not need any liquid glues to help them stick and it even works on wet surfaces. The hairs can trap tiny bubbles that make the Gecko act as a hovercraft, gliding along even the slipperiest surface!

Next time you go all “Blue Peter” and get your Pritt Stick out remember the wasps, bees and lizards whose sticky feet are to thank.

  1. Can you find any sticky seeds in your garden or local park? This dog has found A LOT of sticky seeds!Look closely at the seeds you find. If you have access to a microscope or magnifying glass, see if you can figure out what makes them stick. Could you draw a picture of the seed structure? Take a look at our smart device microscope for a really cost effective and pretty darn awesome microscope!
  2. Set up an experiment to see what materials velcro sticks to: Compare wool, cotton, plastic, denim. What is it about the stickiest material that makes velcro stick to it?

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