Cat burglars are so named for their stealthy and sneaky thieving strategies, scaling buildings and creeping through windows to gain access to what’s inside. Arguably a more effective animal to mimic when trying to rob people in this way would be a gecko, whose famously sticky toe pads mean they can literally climb up walls, even glass ones. And you fools were all so busy focusing on those bank-robbing raccoons...
What’s less well-known about these would-be professional thieves is that they have sticky tails, too. The trait was actually first described over a century ago but there’s been little in the way of research into their function, until now.
A new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, decided to finally suss out the skills of sticky gecko tails, a trait shared by 21 species in the genera. Looking specifically at Correlophus ciliatus, commonly known as the crested gecko, they investigated its capabilities and looked at embryonic data to see how they developed and if they were built of the same stuff as sticky toe pads.
Their investigations revealed that the crested gecko’s tail was a pretty impressive piece of kit, exhibiting what the study authors described as “impressive adhesive ability”. From their observations and calculations, they estimate that the tail pad could be capable of holding up to five times the crested gecko’s total body mass.
The embryonic data supported the idea that the tail pad is indeed very similar to the toe pads, as it was found that the tail’s stickiness developed at around the same time as the sticky toes during embryogenesis, a fancy word for the formation of an embryo.
"The adhesive tail pad of C. ciliatus is highly functional, with adhesive capabilities on par with an entire Anolis manus," wrote the study authors. An "anolis manus" is essentially the hand of an anole, a genus of iguanian lizards who also have sticky toes and were recently found to breathe underwater thanks to a snout bubble. They mark the first known vertebrate to exhibit the incredible rebreathing behavior which means they can hide out underwater for up to 18 minutes.
Unfortunately for the sticky-tailed crested gecko, its talented appendage isn't without flaws. "Paradoxically, the highly functional C. ciliatus tails do not regenerate, unlike nearly all other gecko species which autotomize their tails, including their close relatives, C. sarasinorum," wrote the authors.
Can't win 'em all, I guess.