An animal’s locomotor skills impact their ability to avoid predators, attract mates and capture prey. Consequently, the habitat in which a gecko lives — and how they move around that environment — influences their survival.
Rishab says this research has given him a new perspective on habitat selection.
“When considering reptiles, people often think about shelter availability, food availability, or temperature as driving factors for where they choose to live. But what about how they interact with the surfaces they live on? Is their ability to be stickier on a certain surface something they need to consider when they explore a given habitat?”
To answer these questions, Rishab takes several approaches. He describes the research as a combination of ecology, performance (a gecko’s ability to cling) and morphology.
Firstly, Rishab visits diverse habitats across Queensland to determine where these animals live in the wild. Secondly, he quantifies the roughness or smoothness of the surfaces they occupy. And thirdly, he replicates that surface in the lab before collecting the geckos and testing their ability to grip to them.
“The last step is quantifying the morphology of each gecko toe pad. So, using a scanning electron microscope, I look at the hairs on the geckos’ feet to see how they have evolved to different lengths, diameters and densities that help them to stick to particular substrates,” he says.
So far, Rishab has discovered that there is indeed a relationship between the microhabitat a gecko chooses to live in and their ability to cling to and move around that environment.
“We’ve found that three species of velvet gecko choose microhabitats comprising of specific surface roughness,” he says. “They prefer to live on surfaces they can stick to better, where their performance is high.”
Rishab’s research has also revealed that geckos can grip to extremely smooth surfaces, such as glass, just as well as they can stick to very coarse surfaces, such as ironbark.
“The geckos do not become less sticky with increasing surface roughness, potentially highlighting the context-dependent nature of their claws and adhesive hairs,” he says.
Want to know more gripping gecko secrets? Check out Rishab’s discoveries.