Washington: A new study has provided a deeper insight into how geckos manage to stay clean, even in the dusty deserts.
In a world first, the discovery done by a research team including James Cook University scientists might also turn out to have important human applications.
JCU's Professor Lin Schwarzkopf said the group found that tiny droplets of water on geckos, for instance from condensing dew, comes into contact with hundreds of thousands of extremely small hair-like spines that cover the animals' bodies.
The geckos' hair-like spines trap pockets of air and work on the same principle, but have an even more dramatic effect. Through a scanning electron microscope, tiny water droplets can be seen rolling into each other and jumping like popcorn off the skin of the animal as they merge and release energy.
Scientists were aware that hydrophobic surfaces repelled water, and that the rolling droplets helped clean the surfaces of leaves and insects, but this was the first time it has been documented in a vertebrate animal.
Box-patterned geckos live in semi-arid habitats, with little rain, but may have dew forming on them when the temperature drops overnight. Professor Schwarzkopf said the process may help geckos keep clean, as the water can carry small particles of dust and dirt away from their body.
Schwarzkopf further mentioned that they tend to live in dry environments where they can't depend on it raining, and this process keeps them clean.
There were possible applications for use in marine-based electronics that have to shed water quickly and for possible "superhydrophobic" clothing that would not get wet or dirty and would never need washing, she concluded.
The study is published in the journal Royal Society.