Interwoven crystal structure is key to coral-crunching ability
So, you thought the fictional people-eating great white shark in the film “Jaws” had a powerful bite. But don’t overlook the mighty mouth of the parrotfish – its hardy teeth allow it to chomp on coral all day long, ultimately chewing and grinding it up through digestion into fine sand. That’s right: Its “beak” creates beaches. A single parrotfish can produce hundreds of pounds of sand each year.
Now, a study by scientists – including those at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) – has revealed a chain mail-like woven microstructure that gives parrotfish teeth their remarkable bite and resilience.
The natural structure they observed also provides a blueprint for creating ultra-durable synthetic materials that could be useful for mechanical components in electronics, and in other devices that undergo repetitive movement, abrasion, and contact stress.
Matthew Marcus, a staff scientist working at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS) – an X-ray source known as a synchrotron light source that was integral in the parrotfish study – became intrigued with parrotfish during a 2012 visit to the Great Barrier Reef off of the coast of Australia.
Image: Scientists studied the microstructure of the coral-chomping teeth of the steephead parrotfish, pictured here, to learn about the fish’s powerful bite.
Credit: Alex The Reef Fish Geek/Nautilus Scuba Club, Cairns, Australia