Some insects can hold an object 100 times heavier than they are–and they can do it while hanging upside down. For ants and bees, the secret to this power resides in adhesive footpads that clamp down tight and hold on to a smooth surface. But for years, scientists have wondered how these insects keep from tripping over their own sticky feet.
Now, they have the answer. Bert Hölldobler at the University of Würzburg in Germany and his colleagues have found that the pads can repeatedly retract into the foot and then unfold as an insect walks. What's more, the insects deploy their footpads with a mechanical precision that has piqued the interest of robotics engineers, the researchers report in the May 22 Proceedings of the Nati