Jonas O. Wolff, Chantal Wiegmann, Christian S. Wirkner, Alexander Koehnsen, and Stanislav N. Gorb

Prehensile and gripping organs are recurring structures in different organisms that enhance friction by the reinforcement and redirection of normal forces. The relationship between organ structure and biomechanical performance is poorly understood, despite a broad relevance for microhabitat choice, movement ecology and biomimetics. Here, we present the first study of the biomechanics of prehensile feet in long-legged harvestmen. These arachnids exhibit the strongest sub-division of legs among arthropods, permitting extreme hyper-flexion (i.e. curling up the foot tip). We found that despite the lack of adhesive foot pads, these moderately sized arthropods are able to scale vertical smooth surfaces, if the surface is curved. The comparison of three species of harvestmen differing in leg morphology show that traction reinforcement by foot wrapping depends on the degree of leg sub-division, not leg length. Differences are explained by adaptation to different microhabitats on trees. The exponential increase of foot section length from distal to proximal introduces a gradient of flexibility that permits adaptation to a wide range of surface curvature while maintaining integrity at strong flexion. A pulley system of the claw depressor tendon ensures the controlled flexion of the high number of adesmatic joints in the harvestman foot. These results contribute to the general understanding of foot function in arthropods and showcase an interesting model for the biomimetic engineering of novel transportation systems and surgical probes.

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