To live and clamber about in an arboreal habitat, tree frogs have evolved adhesive pads on their toes. In addition, they often have long and slender legs to facilitate not only long jumps, but also to bridge gaps between leaves when climbing. Both adhesive pads and long limbs are used in conjunction, as we will show in this study. Previous research has shown that tree frogs change from a crouched posture (where the limbs are close to the body) to a sprawled posture with extended limbs when clinging on to steeper inclines such as vertical or overhanging slopes. We investigated this change in posture in White's tree frogs (Litoria caerulea) by challenging the frogs to cling onto a tiltable platform. The platform consisted of an array of 24 three-dimensional force transducers, which allowed us to measure the ground reaction forces of the frogs during a tilt. Starting from a crouched resting position, the normal forces on the forelimbs changed sign and became increasingly negative with increasing slope angle of the platform. At about 1068 + 128, tilt of the platform the frogs reacted by extending one or two of their limbs outwards. At a steeper angle (1318 + 118), the frogs spread out all their limbs sideways, with the hindlimbs stretched out to their maximum reach. Although the extension was strongest in the lateral direction, limbs were significantly extended in the fore-aft direction as well. With the extension of the limbs, the lateral forces increased relative to the normal forces. The large contribution of the in-plane forces helped to keep the angle between the force vector and the platform small. The Kendall theory for the peeling of adhesive tape predicts that smaller peel angles lead to higher attachment forces. We compare our data with the predictions of the Kendall model and discuss possible implications of the sliding of the pads on the surface. The forces were indeed much larger for smaller angles and thus can be explained by peeling theory.
Tree frogs climb smooth surfaces utilising capillary forces arising from an air-fluid interface around their toe pads, whereas torrent frogs are able to climb in wet environments near waterfalls where the integrity of the meniscus is at risk. This study compares the adhesive capabilities of a torrent frog to a tree frog, investigating possible adaptations for adhesion under wet conditions. We challenged both frog species to cling to a platform which could be tilted from the horizontal to an upside-down orientation, testing the frogs on different levels of roughness and water flow. On dry, smooth surfaces, both frog species stayed attached to overhanging slopes equally well. In contrast, under both low and high flow rate conditions, the torrent frogs performed significantly better, even adhering under conditions where their toe pads were submerged in water, abolishing the meniscus that underlies capillarity. Using a transparent platform where areas of contact are illuminated, we measured the contact area of frogs during platform rotation under dry conditions. Both frog species not only used the contact area of their pads to adhere, but also large parts of their belly and thigh skin. In the tree frogs, the belly and thighs often detached on steeper slopes, whereas the torrent frogs increased the use of these areas as the slope angle increased. Probing small areas of the different skin parts with a force transducer revealed that forces declined significantly in wet conditions, with only minor differences between the frog species. The superior abilities of the torrent frogs were thus due to the large contact area they used on steep, overhanging surfaces. SEM images revealed slightly elongated cells in the periphery of the toe pads in the torrent frogs, with straightened channels in between them which could facilitate drainage of excess fluid underneath the pad.
Most studies on the adhesive mechanisms of climbing animals have addressed attachment against flat surfaces, yet many animals can climb highly curved surfaces, like twigs and small branches. Here we investigated whether tree frogs use a clamping grip by recording the ground reaction forces on a cylindrical object with either a smooth or anti-adhesive, rough surface. Furthermore, we measured the contact area of fore and hindlimbs against differently sized transparent cylinders and the forces of individual pads and subarticular tubercles in restrained animals. Our study revealed that frogs use friction and normal forces of roughly a similar magnitude for holding on to cylindrical objects. When challenged with climbing a non-adhesive surface, the compressive forces between opposite legs nearly doubled, indicating a stronger clamping grip. In contrast to climbing flat surfaces, frogs increased the contact area on all limbs by engaging not just adhesive pads but also subarticular tubercles on curved surfaces. Our force measurements showed that tubercles can withstand larger shear stresses than pads. SEM images of tubercles revealed a similar structure to that of toe pads including the presence of nanopillars, though channels surrounding epithelial cells were less pronounced. The tubercles' smaller size, proximal location on the toes and shallow cells make them probably less prone to buckling and thus ideal for gripping curved surfaces.
Ants are able to climb effortlessly on vertical and inverted smooth surfaces. When climbing, their feet touch the substrate not only with their pretarsal adhesive pads but also with dense arrays of fine hairs on the ventral side of the 3rd and 4th tarsal segments. To understand what role these different attachment structures play during locomotion, we analysed leg kinematics and recorded single-leg ground reaction forces in Weaver ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) climbing vertically on a smooth glass substrate. We found that the ants engaged different attachment structures depending on whether their feet were above or below their Centre of Mass (CoM). Legs above the CoM pulled and engaged the arolia (‘toes’), whereas legs below the CoM pushed with the 3rd and 4th tarsomeres (‘heels’) in surface contact. Legs above the CoM carried a significantly larger proportion of the body weight than legs below the CoM. Force measurements on individual ant tarsi showed that friction increased with normal load as a result of the bending and increasing side contact of the tarsal hairs. On a rough sandpaper substrate, the tarsal hairs generated higher friction forces in the pushing than in the pulling direction, whereas the reverse effect was found on the smooth substrate. When the tarsal hairs were pushed, buckling was observed for forces exceeding the shear forces found in climbing ants. Adhesion forces were small but not negligible, and higher on the smooth substrate. Our results indicate that the dense tarsal hair arrays produce friction forces when pressed against the substrate, and help the ants to push outwards during horizontal and vertical walking.
Tree frogs need to adhere to surfaces of various roughnesses in their natural habitats; these include bark, leaves and rocks. Rough surfaces can alter the effectiveness of their toe pads, due to factors such as a change of real contact area and abrasion of the pad epithelium. Here, we tested the effect of surface roughness on the attachment abilities of the tree frog Litoria caerulea. This was done by testing shear and adhesive forces on artificial surfaces with controlled roughness, both on single toe pads and whole animal scales. It was shown that frogs can stick 2–3 times better on small scale roughnesses (3–6 µm asperities), producing higher adhesive and frictional forces, but relatively poorly on the larger scale roughnesses tested (58.5–562.5 µm asperities). Our experiments suggested that, on such surfaces, the pads secrete insufficient fluid to fill the space under the pad, leaving air pockets that would significantly reduce the Laplace pressure component of capillarity. Therefore, we measured how well the adhesive toe pad would conform to spherical asperities of known sizes using interference reflection microscopy. Based on experiments where the conformation of the pad to individual asperities was examined microscopically, our calculations indicate that the pad epithelium has a low elastic modulus, making it highly deformable.
The hymenopteran tarsus is equipped with claws and a movable adhesive pad (arolium). Even though both organs are specialised for substrates of different roughness, they are moved by the same muscle, the claw flexor. Here we show that despite this seemingly unfavourable design, the use of arolium and claws can be adjusted according to surface roughness by mechanical control. Tendon pull experiments in ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) revealed that the claw flexor elicits rotary movements around several (pre-) tarsal joints. However, maximum angular change of claws, arolium and fifth tarsomere occurred at different pulling amplitudes, with arolium extension always being the last movement. This effect indicates that arolium use is regulated non-neuronally. Arolium unfolding can be suppressed on rough surfaces, when claw tips interlock and inhibit further contraction of the claw flexor or prevent legs from sliding towards the body. To test whether this hypothesised passive control operates in walking ants, we manipulated ants by clipping claw tips. Consistent with the proposed control mechanism, claw pruning resulted in stronger arolium extension on rough but not on smooth substrates. The control of attachment by the insect claw flexor system demonstrates how mechanical systems in the body periphery can simplify centralised, neuro-muscular feedback control.
SUMMARYTree frogs use adhesive toe pads for climbing on a variety of surfaces. They rely on wet adhesion, which is aided by the secretion of mucus. In nature, the pads will undoubtedly get contaminated regularly through usage, but appear to maintain their stickiness over time. Here, we show in two experiments that the toe pads of Whiteʼs tree frogs (Litoria caerulea) quickly recover from contamination through a self-cleaning mechanism. We compared adhesive forces prior to and after contamination of (1) the whole animal on a rotatable platform and (2) individual toe pads in restrained frogs mimicking individual steps using a motorised stage. In both cases, the adhesive forces recovered after a few steps but this took significantly longer in single toe pad experiments from restrained frogs, showing that use of the pads increases recovery. We propose that both shear movements and a ʻflushingʼ effect of the secreted mucus play an important role in shedding particles/contaminants. Supplementary material available online at
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