Repeated origin and loss of adhesive toepads in Geckos

Tony Gamble, Eli Greenbaum, Todd R. Jackman, Anthony P. Russell, Aaron M. Bauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

233 Scopus citations


Geckos are well known for their extraordinary clinging abilities and many species easily scale vertical or even inverted surfaces. This ability is enabled by a complex digital adhesive mechanism (adhesive toepads) that employs van der Waals based adhesion, augmented by frictional forces. Numerous morphological traits and behaviors have evolved to facilitate deployment of the adhesive mechanism, maximize adhesive force and enable release from the substrate. The complex digital morphologies that result allow geckos to interact with their environment in a novel fashion quite differently from most other lizards. Details of toepad morphology suggest multiple gains and losses of the adhesive mechanism, but lack of a comprehensive phylogeny has hindered efforts to determine how frequently adhesive toepads have been gained and lost. Here we present a multigene phylogeny of geckos, including 107 of 118 recognized genera, and determine that adhesive toepads have been gained and lost multiple times, and remarkably, with approximately equal frequency. The most likely hypothesis suggests that adhesive toepads evolved 11 times and were lost nine times. The overall external morphology of the toepad is strikingly similar in many lineages in which it is independently derived, but lineage-specific differences are evident, particularly regarding internal anatomy, with unique morphological patterns defining each independent derivation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere39429
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 27 2012


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