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Hydrophobicity & Leopard Gecko Skin

Our Amazing & Innovative Mother Earth

hydrophobicityOur planet is truly amazing. Time and time again nature leaves me awed and inspired to want to learn more. I love how simple and amazing life can be. Something as simple as watching droplets of water on a leopard gecko’s skin can have such an outstanding effect on someone. I for one can’t help but learn more.

SuperHydrophobicity and Reptile Skin

We are going to be looking at something called hydrophobicity. In the video above, Hydrophobicity appears to make these water droplets repel from the surface of the leopard gecko’s skin. Many of you wanted to learn more about why this is happening so we will be going into more detail about what forces are at work and why the leopard gecko’s skin is hydrophobic. The root of the word hydrophobicity comes from an Ancient greek word meaning “having a horror of water” or “fear of water.” In layman’s, Hydrophobicity is how much a certain molecule will repel water. Different molecules have different levels of hydrophobicity depending on their composition and molecular structure. Molecules that have a high level of hydrophobic properties are referred to superhydrophobic. Leopard gecko’s skin, and many other materials found in nature, have been found to be superhydrophobic and seem to repel water, causing it to ball up and roll off without soaking in. Some reptiles are so hydrophobic that they can actually stand on water, like the coleodactylus Amazonicus, commonly referred to as the Brazilian Pygmy gecko. Many companies across the globe are trying to recreate this effect with man-made imimimaterials so they can be used in various industrial and commercial settings.

What causes water to bounce of gecko skin?

So What is causing this to happen? What forces are at work here? Those are great questions. This is where is gets a bit complicated though, so hold on. There isn’t actually a force repelling the water droplets. What you are seeing is instead caused by the lack of an attraction between the surfaces of the leopard gecko skin and the water. Hydrophobic molecules, like the ones that makes up part of the geckos skin, are mostly non-polar in regards to attraction on the molecular level. This means they are mostly only attracted to other non-polar molecules. Because water consists of only polar molecules, they are not attractive to the geckos skin, because it consists partly of non-polar hydrophobes, or hydrophobic molecules. This is why you see the water droplets appear to bounce off the gecko’s skin in the clip above.

Why is Leopard Gecko skin hydrophobic?

Now you may be wondering, “why are leopard gecko’s skin hydrophobic?” Most animal’s skin are hydrophobic to some degree to prevent water from entering their bodies, while at the same time retaining water within that animal. We as humans are unique in that we can retain water inside our skin and also sweat it out if needed. Skin acts as a waterproof barrier that prevents harmful things such as bacteria from entering the body as well. It is thought that many of these small reptiles and amphibians have evolved over time to have superhydrophobic skin to avoid drowning in small puddles or even rain droplets, as seem with coleodactylus Amazonicus.

Nature is the Ultimate Engineer

To me, this is why nature is so amazing. What we see here is another way in which nature has adapted to it’s environment and to help it survive. I am always taken with awe by just how innovative and exceptionally efficient nature can be.  It’s very important that we preserve our planet’s species to ensure that these amazing organisms, as well as their secrets, are not lost forever.

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