Nature often inspires some of humanity’s best technologies. Glues are no exception. Our earliest adhesives were gathered from nature and even now, nature is showing us new compounds we can use to make even better glues. You may be surprised at some of the natural sources of glues, and which is the strongest adhesive we’ve ever seen. Here’s a quick guide to interesting adhesives found in nature.
The latest adhesive discovery is very surprising. A bacterium found in plumbing pipes makes the strongest adhesive ever produced. In order to remove the bacteria from a glass surface, it takes the equivalent force of three cars balancing on a quarter (which is 5 ton per square inch). As a bonus, the glue is non-toxic and works in water!
Termites are blind, so they need very strong and fast-acting defense mechanisms to protect them from their enemies, such as ants. They, therefore, evolved a nozzle on the front of their head that sprays glue when it feels an enemy in front of it. The glue can be toxic to ants, or it can just slow them down.
Geckos have sticky feet that they use to climb with. In fact, they can turn the stickiness of their feet on and off. That’s because the adhesive is actually very small bristles that split off into even smaller hairs that create an electromagnetic attraction that helps Geckos stick to a huge range of surfaces.
A mussel has a tough job to do every time the tide comes in or out. They need to stay attached to their home rocks in order to survive. So, they adapted long, tendril-like feet that attach them to the rock. It was also discovered that the feet have six or so different kinds of glues that help the mussel stay on, even when it’s fighting the tide.
Honeybees are as industrious in the glue world as they are at making honey. They create their own adhesive that is called propolis. They create it from their saliva and an oil that flowers produce called pollenkitt. Bees use their glue to protect their nectar as they head back to their home. This glue is still renowned for its ability to stay sticky in wet or humid conditions. It is still a challenge to design a synthetic glue that can meet these challenges.
It’s not just animals that have given us useful adhesives. Rubber trees naturally contain latex, which, when added to adhesives, improves them dramatically. It adds flexibility, even at low temperatures.