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Imagine vast areas covered in sheets of a (preferably grey) biological waterproof material that is stuck to the rocks below it.

Humans come along at harvest time and cut these sheets into strips, peel them off together with their natural adhesive and use them for many, many purposes.

What I can't get my head around is how these waterproof sheets could evolve, grow and survive.

Can you help?


Note in response to comment

Why biology? I would like them to be alive at some point because otherwise, as a surface phenomenon, they will quickly be exhausted. I want new duck-sheets to appear each year where the harvesting took place.

Why is it called duck tape?

Some have queried why it is called duck-tape and not duct-tape. This is because ducks like to feed on it. There are duck wardens with trained dogs employed to keep these pesky creatures away from the valuable crops. Edit - but see the answer by @Chronocidal. This explains the presence of ducks more convincingly. (ducks eat snails)

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    $\begingroup$ @John Dvorak - See note added to question. If you have a really good non-biological but self-renewing solution then I would be interested to hear it. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Aug 6 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ In the real world it grows on trees and it's rather brown, not gray. It's a major export of Portugal, and it has been used for many many purposes for thousands and thousands of years. I take it you don't like wine? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 6 at 12:50
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    $\begingroup$ The words "sticky" and "strong" do not appear in the question. The question requires a natural, self-replenishing, waterproof material which "humans come along at harvest time and cut into strips". Cork satisfies all conditions. (That's why I commented instead of answering; I had a feeling that you didn't ask what you wanted to ask. And you can always glue a layer of cork on a textile substrate.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 6 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ Is this anywhere near the mattress swamps of Sqornshellous Zeta? hitchhikers.fandom.com/wiki/Sqornshellous_Zeta $\endgroup$ – Paul Johnson Aug 8 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ FYI, some people in the real world say that the name "duck tape" pre-dates "duct tape." They say that one of the first sticky-backed tapes ever manufactured was called "duck tape," because it was made of cotton duck cloth. $\endgroup$ – Solomon Slow Aug 8 at 19:24

11 Answers 11

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Barnacles.

Barnacles make glue and stick themselves to substrate. It is serious glue.

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/researchers-develop-groundbreaking-process-to-study-barnacle-glue-could-save-navy-millions-300907760.html

These small but mighty crustaceans create a cement-like adhesive layer that is difficult to remove once applied. The adhesive layer, called barnacle glue, is made of proteins that have remained mysterious to researchers. Researchers believe identifying the proteins is the first step toward understanding the glue, and ultimately developing materials to effectively combat the glue's adhesive qualities. "If we can figure out how to make them not attach as well, they will be easier to remove or [ensure] they just won't attach," Schultzhaus said. "That would save the Navy a lot of money."

Your duct tape creature is similar to a barnacle. It lives in an area with powerful waves (or wind) that would otherwise break it loose. You want a lot of surface area so probably it is a photosynthesizer - lichen meets barnacle.

Your people prepare an extremely alkaline solution, of boiled stale urine or lye from straining water through wood ash, because the glue is pH sensitive. Rinsing the sheets with this solution loosens the glue and the sheet can come off. When neutralized with plain water the sheet gets sticky again.

If you can use the living tape in circumstances that keeps it alive, it will keep itself sticky and that is best.

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Ok, so this is slightly on a tangent ( but I like it and you might too)

What if you had a tree (not a rock), which rather than bark which grows by adding a new concentric layer of bark each year, instead it slowly grows around the tree. Like myelin does on nerve cells.

Nerve myelination

The trailing edge slowly forms into wood over time. The DuckBark™ Tree has bark with an outer waxy side to protect it, from insects and the weather, and a sticky side which holds onto the layer underneath.

Your explorers just cut down a tree, slice it into 2 inch wide sections, and there you go duct tape on a wooden core.

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    $\begingroup$ This is so straightforward and appealing that I am tempted to accept it as the answer. However, because it doesn't follow my exact specifications (and doesn't fit in with my proposed ecosystem), I am regretfully going to choose something else. Nevertheless I am mightily impressed! $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Aug 7 at 13:20
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    $\begingroup$ I think DuckBark™ Tree may fit better. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Aug 7 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ @chasly-reinstateMonica That's cool. It just seemed too cool to not share :D $\endgroup$ – DarcyThomas Aug 7 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ Answer going on a tangent? Well, that seems perfect for this question, doesn't it? $\endgroup$ – leftaroundabout Aug 8 at 12:24
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This is the partially-dried mucus of a species of giant snail.

As snails (and, indeed, most other gastropods) travel, they exude a polymer gel mucus, which serves as a protective layer between the animal and the surface it travels. This gel ("snail slime") has qualities of both adhesives and lubricants.

Your oversized snails require a thicker layer of mucus to protect themselves. As this exposed surface dries, it forms a rubbery layer of silvery waterproof material, which is still sticky underneath. By virtue of "smoothing out" the sharp/rough terrain, this makes the area even safer for these snails to traverse in future.

This material may also have additional properties - such as providing nitrogen fixing or similar to encourage plant growth (breaking down the material), for the snails to feed on in turn. The material on the rocks, not being consumed by the plants, builds up into even thicker sheets.

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    $\begingroup$ Great idea - this would also explain why ducks are attracted to the area! quora.com/Do-ducks-eat-snails-and-slugs $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Aug 7 at 11:54
  • $\begingroup$ I get the feeling that square cube law would keep a snail from growing too large especially if it sheds a lot of mucus. $\endgroup$ – IT Alex Aug 7 at 12:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Chronocidal - This has the makings of a great ecosystem. Snails eat surface moss/other vegetation, snails leave trails, ducks eat the snails, humans protect the snails from the ducks and harvest the trails, and so on. I'm planning a follow-up question (with credits to you) that will ask for a much more rigorous detailing of the ecosystem as based on this answer. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Aug 7 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ Up vote due to previous horrible experiences trying to get snail/slug slime off of my skin! $\endgroup$ – user3067860 Aug 7 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ I like the idea that it is actually created in strips, rather than sheets as OP envisioned. With the right-sized snails the strips can be exactly the width needed. $\endgroup$ – prl Aug 8 at 3:54
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They're a variety of sundew.

Sundews are a type of entirely passive carnivorous plant that rely on sticky droplets to trap and hold insects. It's not much of a stretch to imagine a version where the sticky substance only appears on one side.

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    $\begingroup$ This was my first thought. Adhesive plants sounds like a trap of some kind. Note that in this layout the duct-tape-plant will probably be dangling like vines or leaves, not stuck to rocks (at least while it is alive) (or, if it is on the rocks, then the sticky side will be facing up, not down). $\endgroup$ – BBeast Aug 7 at 3:30
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Spider webs

On Earth, there's a wide variety of spiders to pick from - or you can invent your own.

Tarantulas make large and dense sheets on the ground. The downide is, tarantula webs aren't particularly sticky, they're mostly for signalling. Another downside is - they want to keep those webs, and they'll let you know in a way that you might not like. The upside is, they make even more web when they're particularly vulnerable.

There is a video of a thread that a golden orb weaver made to chill on. It can lift a hammer, even if only briefly. Those things aren't fragile. Perhaps this is what your men are harvesting - when the winter comes, old spiders are no longer able to survive, and leave their treasure behind. Your men collect the webs, layer them, add some debris on one side - such as leaves textile or paper - to make it not sticky and to add further strength...

...or better yet, they were lucky enough to find a species that likes to lay their traps on moss or lichen... or even leaves that already come in the "long stripe" form.

Coloring isn't an issue either - spiders love grey and brown. In fact - the top layer of an egg sac is a layer of coloring just for design! (Biologists call that "mimicry")

Later on the folk might even develop webtape farms - large parallel sheets of paper - one side slightly more affine to the web glue - with about 1cm gaps between them (tweak based on your choice of spiders), plus cobweb spiders, plus spider food. One year later, peel the sheets apart. The still sticky webs will remain attached to the paper. Remove eggsacs, and roll up for logistics.

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Nature provides

Most of it has been said above, but here it is together. Nature has many solutions to your problems. There are many substances that are "sticky" in one way or another. Think spidersilk, gecko feet or cleaver plants. What you need is a reason they grow strips.

The cleaver plant has many little hooks on it's outside. This is so the seeds can travel in the hairs or on the skin of other creatures, so it spreads far and wide. At the same time, they don't need their seeds to be small like many that are flying thanks to the wind. So they can make bigger seeds with lots of protection and nutrients.

Waterproofing is done as well in nature. Scientists try to find out how water lilly pads form for their great hydrophobic properties.

Finally lets look at why these strips are there so long. There are many plants that grow seeds that last for years. There is a plant that grows the seeds and only spreads them thanks to fire. If the seeds get warm they shoot out far away and start growing. But this can take years. Otherwise the gorse plant (I really hope I'm translating all these plants correctly). This one can have seeds that last up to 60 years before they start growing, making them live even after a few years that all of the plants have died.

All together

The plants grow grey or black strips, in which the seeds are held together with some nutrients. The strips have an adhesive side (some even both sides) so they can be taken way by other creatures. This natural adhesive stays for years. The strips are well insulated against the weather, preventing rain and other sources from entering, making a hydrophobic layer that is barely organic to prevent rot. They are strips, so that if the plant dies and they haven't been taken by a creature yet, they can still fly a bit on the wind.

They grow up each year, growing more of the strips. The strips are able to live years, so they don't lose their properties soon. Possibly the seeds can be removed from the strip so they don't destroy the strip itself.

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Its their method of spreading seeds.

Imagine if a plant grows around a lot of species that build things, like birds that build nests and ape-likes that can create the simplest of tools. So this plant created a simple system for delivering its seeds:

It creates a strip of matter with seeds inside, similar to many bean types (1). On top of this strip it creates the duct-tape material that animals around will love to use. This material originally started as a tough, weather-resistant layer to protect the seeds against insects and would eventually split open, but the material started being used by the surrounding animals. These animals will want to get the most out of their duct-tape, so they want to take the duct-tape off when they are about to use it. This means they will take the strip containing the seeds along with them before discarding it, spreading the seeds around. This made the plant evolve itself to make the duct-tape layer as useful as possible, similar to plants that make their berries as edible as possible to ensure a bird will poop the seeds at a random location inside its living area and immediately fertalize it.

(1): https://images.app.goo.gl/xsdHjeZ7a7Sdb9sJ8

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  • $\begingroup$ Although I don't have any tool-using animals on this world, your idea does accord with my understanding of selective breeding, e.g. of wheat by humans from a form of grass. Humans over the millennia could gradually have improved the usefulness of the seed pods by using the best specimens for seed stock. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Aug 7 at 11:18
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How about a moss-like hydrophobic fungus? It behaves sort like a moss in the sense that it grows in the rocks (like moss) but it is hydrophobic.

I found this amino acid that is formed in molds that could do the trick. Think of it like a massive colony that sticks together and it is hydrophobic

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Duck tape is like The Force, it as a dark side and a light side and holds the universe together.

The cause is clearly Midichlorians

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    $\begingroup$ While this is clearly doesn't fit in with the parameters of the question, +1 for ingenuity and humour! $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Aug 9 at 10:32
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Originally found in the arid, wind-swept arsenic fields in the east, the ground-hugging plant evolved to produce an adhesive under-layer to prevent contact with the poisonous soil it was growing over, where growing roots would only serve to poison itself. Originally growing sporadically in the harsh environment, it has now become invasive in some areas, sticking to vast amounts of ground and choking out other competing plants. The odd gray coloration evolved because the chemicals found in its natural habitat react poorly with normal chlorophyll. The novel process evolved here is less efficient than chlorophyll, but solar energy was more than abundant in the original locations, and it's propensity to smother all other growth provides it with enough sunlight in it's invaded locations.

Alternatively, perhaps it's not a plant, but a very tough variety of fungus similar to a slime mold. It creates the lower adhesive layer, as well as a tough pliable layer on top, keeping the mold safe in the middle layer. In it's natural habitat, it "moves" around, gaining energy from other creatures that have fallen prey to the poison fields. But in it's invaded areas, there is enough organic matter below, and even from above (falling leaves, blowing debris, etc) that it can form much larger mats without dying off.

Or, even if the center layer is dead, the top and bottom layers remain.

Other creatures and plants colonize the top, in a symbiotic relationship that allows the ducks to live and build nests in an area protected by the poison fields.

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It’s a form of slime mold. It’s evolved originally in an extremely wet environment, but as the continent moved the environment went from a rainforest to an extremely arid environment. The slime mold blooms after the rain and quickly covers the environment in a bi layered structure in order to preserve the moisture. Duck tape can only be found in areas where the ground is made of clay or stone where the water doesn’t get absorbed by the ground

It’s first layer is filled with extremely sticky and oily cells that adheres to rocky surface and absorbs moisture like crazy. The sticking is meant to deter predators, making it very difficult to peel the layer off without thumbs. There are some creatures like the desert duck with razor a razor sharp that allows them to poke a hole in the duck tape, and suck up the sweet nutrients. Of course the slime mold responds by drying out the area and forming a cement ring around the damaged skin the outer layer is a thick skin filled with many layers of dried cells, similar to our skin.

The sticky substance when dried forms a sort of cement that leaves the top layer tough. This forms a layer of an almost gel like material with a thick outer skin. The duck tape can be carefully peeled off the rocky floor and dried for a short period of time to create a drier adhesive. It must be quickly wrapped around itself in order to keep it from completely drying. However once unpeeled and stuck the polymers form a strong almost permanent seal.

The slime mold itself has a symbiotic relationship with a form of moss and is provided tons of free energy. after the rain. Very quickly a layer of moss springs up from the duct tape and uses the water to survive for a long period of time. Once it gets too dry, the moss rementants forms a seed of dried moss wrapped up in a thick layer of biofilm, and remains inactive until the rainy season starts back up. For the most part duck tape can usually survive between the rains but if it can’t it always has the ‘bacteria’ part of its life cycle

In fact the dead skin cells could actually form a water tight layer on the soil preventing water from leaking into the ground . Beneath each duck tape is a thick layer, often many feet deep of non sticky duct tape material

To Sumerize:

  • a desert slime mold evolved form a thick duct tape like material to preserve moisture after rain. It forms a sticky layer of gel like material with a hard, plastically layer of dried skin. After a few days, tiny moss sprouts will picture the tape and grow out of the duck tape
  • duck tape is only really usable before the moss sprouts and must be carefully peaked from the ground and allowed to dry in the sun just long enough to mostly dry up but not enough to completely dry.
  • using this strategy the slime mold can survive many years between rains and if it runs out of water, the kiss dries up and the slime turns into a community of single celled organisms

Note: I realize my grammar is probably pretty off. I’m typing on my iPhone and I never expect myself to write as much as I usually do. On a iPhone this feels like a novel and spell check can be annoying. Plz forgive any grammar mistakes/spelling errors, but if it’s possible feel free to clean this up

Another side note, the idea is pretty heavily based on the anemonic sea, which you can read about here: https://alienplanet.fandom.com/wiki/Amoebic_Sea

No idea how to make a link on mobile but if I did know, rest assured Amniotic sea would be hyperlinked.

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