• clinging surfaces;
  • habitat use;
  • Hemidactylus;
  • locomotion;
  • performance;
  • toepads

We studied the effects of substrate structure on locomotor performance in a climbing gecko, Hemidactylus garnoti. We quantified three performance traits (acceleration capacity, instantaneous speed, and final speed) on three substrates: (i) smooth wood, (ii) a cloth surface, and (iii) a wire mesh. While acceleration capacity and instantaneous speed were highest on the wooden surface, final speed did not differ significantly among substrates. Using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) pictures, we estimated that 98% of the wooden surface is available for adhesion by the setae on the toepads, while this percentage is much lower for the mesh and cloth (41 and 37%, respectively). We suggest that when a gecko climbs up a gap-filled substrate, such as the wire mesh or cloth, adhesion will only happen between part of the toepad and the substrate, resulting in a diminished acceleration capacity. The higher acceleration capacity on the wooden substrate and the fact that the geckos tend to slip less often on this particular surface, may explain the difference in instantaneous speed. As for final speed, geckos might achieve similar final speeds on all three substrates by employing different locomotor strategies. Our results suggest that microhabitat use in nature might have a profound effect on locomotor performance and survival for climbing lizards such as geckos. © 2005 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2005, 85, 385–393.