Scaling and biomechanics of surface attachment in climbing animals

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2015 Feb 5;370(1661):20140027. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0027.


Attachment devices are essential adaptations for climbing animals and valuable models for synthetic adhesives. A major unresolved question for both natural and bioinspired attachment systems is how attachment performance depends on size. Here, we discuss how contact geometry and mode of detachment influence the scaling of attachment forces for claws and adhesive pads, and how allometric data on biological systems can yield insights into their mechanism of attachment. Larger animals are expected to attach less well to surfaces, due to their smaller surface-to-volume ratio, and because it becomes increasingly difficult to distribute load uniformly across large contact areas. In order to compensate for this decrease of weight-specific adhesion, large animals could evolve overproportionally large pads, or adaptations that increase attachment efficiency (adhesion or friction per unit contact area). Available data suggest that attachment pad area scales close to isometry within clades, but pad efficiency in some animals increases with size so that attachment performance is approximately size-independent. The mechanisms underlying this biologically important variation in pad efficiency are still unclear. We suggest that switching between stress concentration (easy detachment) and uniform load distribution (strong attachment) via shear forces is one of the key mechanisms enabling the dynamic control of adhesion during locomotion.

Keywords: bioinspiration; contact splitting; controllable adhesion; wet adhesives.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Body Size*
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*