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Mantis shrimp could inspire ultra-strong materials

The unique features of mantis shrimp may have implications for new ultra-strong materials, according to a new paper outlined in the journal Advanced Materials.

Mantis shrimp are fierce underwater predators that are commonly called smashers because of the way they use their club-like arms to break open hard-shelled prey. However, while the impact of slamming into a hard surface breaks the shell, it does no damage to the club. That unique property led a group of scientists from various U.S. universities to take an in-depth look at the crustacean.

Research on the shrimp revealed that one of the two interior regions of the club — known as the striated region — is made up of a series of highly aligned fibers. These fibers wrap around the club the moment it hits its target, which makes it so that the club does not expand from the force of the impact.

“We believe the role of the fiber-reinforced striated region in the smasher’s club is much like the hand wrap used by boxers when they fight: to compress the club and prevent catastrophic cracking,” explained study co-author David Kisailus, a researcher at the University of California, Riverside, according to International Business Times. “Together, the impact, periodic and striated regions form a club of incredible strength, durability and impact resistance.”

That is a unique evolutionary tool, and one scientists believe could be applied to future technology to create more durable materials.

Researchers are not sure how the shrimp first developed the fibers. However, older species of mantis shrimp that speared, rather than clubbed, their prey, also had striated internal regions. That, combined with the fact that the diversification happened around the time hard-shelled prey first appeared, suggests that the striated structure led to the club.

Besides looking at the way the shrimp attack prey, researchers also found how mantis shrimp strike so quickly underwater. While the liquid would normally slow them down, the club and a nearby area on the body have a hydrodynamic teardrop design. That shape reduces resistance that would be caused by drag, allowing the animal to hit through water at incredibly fast speeds.

Both the shape and build up of the club could have applications for future technology. Researchers hope to further study the shrimp to see what else they can learn from its unique properties.

“Interestingly, aerodynamic cycling helmets and golf clubs already incorporate this design, suggesting that nature was one step ahead of humans in achieving high performance structures,” added Kisailus, in a statement. “The natural world can provide many more design cues that will enable us to develop high performance synthetic materials.”

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