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HOLY SEA SNAILS! Their TEETH are strong enough to build a plane

Limpet fangs strongest ever natural material, say boffins

Forget the Killer Rabbit from Monty Python, limpets – a type of aquatic snail – have far more power behind their bite, say the scientists who've discovered their teeth are composed of the strongest natural material.

The creatures need high strength teeth to scrape algae off rocks. But researchers from Portsmouth University have found their structure is so biologically strong it could be copied to make cars, boats and planes.

The teeth are curved, 100 times thinner than the diameter of a human hair, and just less than a millimetre long.

Scientists used atomic force microscopy to pull the teeth apart at the atom level. They found the teeth contain a hard mineral known as goethite, which forms in the limpet as it grows.

Professor Asa Barber from the university’s School of Engineering said: “Until now we thought that spider silk was the strongest biological material because of its super-strength and potential applications in everything from bullet-proof vests to computer electronics but now we have discovered that limpet teeth exhibit a strength that is potentially higher.”

The research also discovered that limpet teeth are the same strength no matter what the size. Usually the bigger a structure, the more prone it is to flaws. Limpet teeth break this rule as their strength is the same no matter what the size.

These structures could be mimicked and used in high-performance engineering applications such as Formula 1 racing cars, the hulls of boats and aircraft structures.

Barber said: “Biology is a great source of inspiration when designing new structures but with so many biological structures to consider, it can take time to discover which may be useful.”

Drawing on nature for effective designs is apparently known as "bioinspiration".

The research was published today in the Royal Society Journal Interface. ®

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