Review - Article in the Thematic series: Biological and bio-inspired adhesion and friction 

Aquatic versus terrestrial attachment: Water makes a difference
Petra Ditsche, Adam Summers


Animal attachment to a substrate is very different in terrestrial and aquatic environments. We discuss variations in both the forces acting to detach animals and forces of attachment. While in a terrestrial environment gravity is commonly understood as the most important detachment force, under submerged conditions gravity is nearly balanced out by buoyancy and therefore matters little. In contrast, flow forces such as drag and lift are of higher importance in an aquatic environment. Depending on the flow conditions, flow forces can reach much higher values than gravity and vary in magnitude and direction. For many of the attachment mechanisms (adhesion including glue, friction, suction and mechanical principles such as hook, lock, clamp and spacer) significant differences have to be considered under water. For example, the main principles of dry adhesion, van der Waals forces and chemical bonding, which make a gecko stick to the ceiling, are weak under submerged conditions. Capillary forces are very important for wet adhesion, e.g., in terrestrial beetles or flies, but usually do not occur under water. Viscous forces are likely an important contributor to adhesion under water in some mobile animals such as torrent frogs and mayflies, but there are still many open questions to be answered. Glue is the dominant attachment mechanism of sessile aquatic animals and the aquatic realm presents many challenges to this mode of attachment. Viscous forces and the lack of surface tension under submerged conditions also affect frictional interactions in the aquatic environment. Moreover, the limitation of suction to the pressure difference at vacuum conditions can be ameliorated under water, due to the increasing pressure with water depth.


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