Geckos are excellent climbers using compliant, hierarchically arranged adhesive toes to negotiate diverse terrains varying in roughness at multiple size scales. Here, we complement advancements at smaller size scales with measurements at the macro scale. We studied the attachment of a single toe and whole foot of geckos on macroscale rough substrates by pulling them along, across and off smooth rods and spheres mimicking different geometric protrusions of substrates. When we pulled a single toe along rods, the force increased with the rod diameter, whereas the attachment force of dragging toes across rods increased from about 60% on small diameter rods relative to a flat surface to ∼100% on larger diameter rods, but showed no further increase as rod diameter doubled. Toe force also increased as the pulling changed from along-rod loading to across-rod loading. When toes were pulled off spheres, the force increased with increasing sphere diameter as observed for along-rod pulling. For feet with separated toes, attachment on spheres was stronger than that on rods with the same diameter. Attachment force of a foot decreased as rod and sphere size increased but remained sufficient to support the body weight of geckos. These results provide a bridge to the macroscale roughness seen in nature by revealing the importance of the dimension, shape and orientation of macroscale substrate features for compliant toe and foot function of geckos. Our data not only enhance our understanding of geckos’ environmental adaptive adhesion but can also provide inspiration for novel robot feet in development.

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