Seahorses have armored tails composed of rigid bony plates arranged in square cross sections surrounding the central vertebral column. Examination of three-dimensional models of sea horse tails reveals that their unique structure combines flexibility and strength. The tail can easily bend to grasp and hold on to objects, such as sea grasses, mangrove roots, and coral reefs. At the same time it is strong enough to protect seahorses from predators that attempt to crush and eat them, such as crabs, sea turtles, and birds. Learning by modeling natural structures has opened up the new field of “bioinspired design,” which in this example of the seahorse tail, has led to the development of novel designs in robotics, biomedicine, and earthquake resistant structures.
This image was created using an imaging technique called micro-computed tomography (micro CT). It uses low-dose X-rays to collect a series of 2D images of a specimen scanned at different angles and a computer to reconstruct a high-resolution 3D model.
Michael M. Porter PhD, Natural Engineering Lab, Clemson University, Clemson, SC, USA