Many insects can climb smooth surfaces using hairy adhesive pads on their legs, mediated by tarsal fluid secretions. It was previously shown that a terrestrial beetle can even adhere and walk underwater. The naturally hydrophobic hairs trap an air bubble around the pads, allowing the hairs to make contact with the substrate as in air. However, it remained unclear to what extent such an air bubble is necessary for underwater adhesion. To investigate the role of the bubble, we measured the adhesive forces in individual legs of live but constrained ladybird beetles underwater in the presence and absence of a trapped bubble and compared these with its adhesion in air. Our experiments revealed that on a hydrophobic substrate, even without a bubble, the pads show adhesion comparable to that in air. On a hydrophilic substrate, underwater adhesion is significantly reduced, with or without a trapped bubble. We modelled the adhesion of a hairy pad using capillary forces. Coherent with our experiments, the model demonstrates that the wetting properties of the tarsal fluid alone can determine the ladybird beetles’ adhesion to smooth surfaces in both air and underwater conditions and that an air bubble is not a prerequisite for their underwater adhesion. This study highlights how such a mediating fluid can serve as a potential strategy to achieve underwater adhesion via capillary forces, which could inspire artificial adhesives for underwater applications.
- Air plastron
- Capillary force