An integrative study of insect adhesion: mechanics and wet adhesion of pretarsal pads in ants

Integr Comp Biol. 2002 Dec;42(6):1100-6. doi: 10.1093/icb/42.6.1100.


Many animals that locomote by legs possess adhesive pads. Such organs are rapidly releasable and adhesive forces can be controlled during walking and running. This capacity results from the interaction of adhesive with complex mechanical systems. Here we present an integrative study of the mechanics and adhesion of smooth attachment pads (arolia) in Asian Weaver ants (Oecophylla smaragdina). Arolia can be unfolded and folded back with each step. They are extended either actively by contraction of the claw flexor muscle or passively when legs are pulled toward the body. Regulation of arolium use and surface attachment includes purely mechanical control inherent in the arrangement of the claw flexor system.Predictions derived from a 'wet' adhesion mechanism were tested by measuring attachment forces on a smooth surface using a centrifuge technique. Consistent with the behavior of a viscid secretion, frictional forces per unit contact area linearly increased with sliding velocity and the increment strongly decreased with temperature.We studied the nature and dimensions of the adhesive liquid film using Interference Reflection Microscopy (IRM). Analysis of 'footprint' droplets showed that they are hydrophobic and form low contact angles. In vivo IRM of insect pads in contact with glass, however, revealed that the adhesive liquid film not only consists of a hydrophobic fluid, but also of a volatile, hydrophilic phase. IRM allows estimation of the height of the liquid film and its viscosity. Preliminary data indicate that the adhesive secretion alone is insufficient to explain the observed friction and that rubbery deformation of the pad cuticle is involved.