Tree frog attachment: Mechanisms, challenges, and perspectives

Julian K.A. Langowski*, Dimitra Dodou, Marleen Kamperman, Johan L. van Leeuwen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

84 Citations (Scopus)


Tree frogs have the remarkable ability to attach to smooth, rough, dry, and wet surfaces using their versatile toe pads. Tree frog attachment involves the secretion of mucus into the pad-substrate gap, requiring adaptations towards mucus drainage and pad lubrication. Here, we present an overview of tree frog attachment, with focus on (i) the morphology and material of the toe pad; (ii) the functional demands on the toe pad arising from ecology, lifestyle, and phylogenetics; (iii) experimental data of attachment performance such as adhesion and friction forces; and (iv) potential perspectives on future developments in the field. By revisiting reported data and observations, we discuss the involved mechanisms of attachment and propose new hypotheses for further research. Among others, we address the following questions: Do capillary and hydrodynamic forces explain the strong friction of the toe pads directly, or indirectly by promoting dry attachment mechanisms? If friction primarily relies on van der Waals (vdW) forces instead, how much do these forces contribute to adhesion in the wet environment tree frogs live in and what role does the mucus play? We show that both pad morphology and measured attachment performance suggest the coaction of several attachment mechanisms (e.g. capillary and hydrodynamic adhesion, mechanical interlocking, and vdW forces) with situation-dependent relative importance. Current analytical models of capillary and hydrodynamic adhesion, caused by the secreted mucus and by environmental liquids, do not capture the contributions of these mechanisms in a comprehensive and accurate way. We argue that the soft pad material and a hierarchical surface pattern on the ventral pad surface enhance the effective contact area and facilitate gap-closure by macro- to nanoscopic drainage of interstitial liquids, which may give rise to a significant contribution of vdW interactions to tree frog attachment. Increasing the comprehension of the complex mechanism of tree frog attachment contributes to a better understanding of other biological attachment systems (e.g. in geckos and insects) and is expected to stimulate the development of a wide array of bioinspired adhesive applications.

Original languageEnglish
Article number32
JournalFrontiers in Zoology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2018


  • Attachment organ
  • Bioadhesion
  • Biomimetics
  • Biotribology
  • Capillary adhesion
  • Drainage
  • Litoria caerulea
  • Lubrication
  • Toe pad
  • Van der Waals


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