Amazing Feet

How ants and other insects walk on ceilings

12-01-2001 // NWF Staff

They cling to slippery leaves while getting pounded by raindrops, and scamper across ceilings upside down. How do ants, bees and their relatives manage these seemingly acrobatic feats? By inflating and retracting tiny suction pads on their feet, according to new research by a team of American and German scientists. The suction pads are located between the creatures' claws, and inflate automatically when the claws are retracted. The pads cling to the surface, but quickly deflate and detach when the insect is moving. On rough or horizontal surfaces, when suction isn't required, the creatures keep their claws extended and the pads stay folded. "This is a striking example," says Bert Hölldobler, the scientist who led the team, "of a peripheral structure that features complex mechanical design but works with relatively simple, central control."

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