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Scientists Debunk Spider-Man’s Powers & Explain Why He’s More Like Frog-Man, If Anything


If scientists wanted to develop a suit that could mimic Spider-Man’s wall-crawling powers, they’d have to include a pair of very large sticky shoes … a US size 114 shoe, to be specific. Researchers at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology have studied various creatures with similar powers, from small bugs to geckos — and there’s a reason why geckos are the largest animals that are capable of scaling a vertical wall. They can use their comparatively large footpads to counteract their body weight.

Walter Federle, one of the senior authors on this research, explains:

As animals increase in size, the amount of body surface area per volume decreases — an ant has a lot of surface area and very little volume, and a blue whale is mostly volume with not much surface area. This poses a problem for larger climbing species because, when they are bigger and heavier, they need more sticking power to be able to adhere to vertical or inverted surfaces, but they have comparatively less body surface available to cover with sticky footpads. This implies that there is a size limit to sticky footpads as an evolutionary solution to climbing – and that turns out to be about the size of a gecko.

So, as a creature’s body weight increases, the surface area of their sticky feet needs to increase, or their overall stickiness level needs to increase. Christofer Clemente, a co-author, pointed out that frogs serve as an example of the latter: “They have switched to this second option of making pads stickier rather than bigger. It’s remarkable that we see two different evolutionary solutions to the problem of getting big and sticking to walls.”

Maybe Peter Parker’s superpower is possessing a high level of stickiness — that would explain why he doesn’t need to have huge hands and feet in order to climb around. Except then he’s more Frog-Man than Spider-Man!

This reminds me of the time I found out as a child that the wings on Archangel from X-Men aren’t big enough or practical enough to allow him to fly, because human beings have way heavier bones than birds (Archangel probably has Avian Bird Syndrome, though). It’s fun to imagine a human who has “super-powers” that we see in the animal kingdom, but there’s a reason why animals are all shaped the way that they are — it’s so they can use their “powers” effectively. You can’t just plop some wings or sticky feet onto a humanoid and assume it’s going to work out.

Except … it does sound from this study like scientists remain optimistic about doing that. Labonte thinks this ongoing research will “likely also have very useful applications in the development of large-scale, powerful yet controllable adhesives.” Presumably those adhesives will be used to help humans scale walls. Right? … Right???

(via Engadget, image via Tumblr)

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