by Amina Khan
With an equine head and a prehensile tail, the sea horse seems as odd as it is adorable — but these strange little creatures are tougher than they look. Scientists studying the animal’s square-shaped tail have discovered that it’s better able to withstand attack than a smooth, round tail would be.
The findings, described in the journal Science, could help researchers build more flexible and durable robots in the future.
That tail, which is used for grasping objects, is made of about 36 squarish segments with a boxy cross section rather than the more common cylindrical form, such as an arm or a leg or a tree branch. That’s already weird, but it seems even stranger to see on a water-dwelling animal, where you would think that the smoothest, most streamlined shape would win out.
“When living organisms deviate from the norm, there’s usually a good biomechanical reason: a clue to some specific problem that needs to be solved,” Miriam Ashley-Ross of Wake Forest University in North Carolina, who was not involved in the paper, pointed out in a commentary.
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