A new discovery has shown that the teeth of a limpet species, commonly known as sea snail, is tougher than Kevlar and stronger than spider silk. The findings have been published in a report in the Royal Society journal Interface.
Photomicrograph of limpet teeth.
Limpet teeth win the race
The species of limpet mentioned in the study is the Patella vulgata. Its teeth have proved to be much stronger than two of the toughest materials known to man, the natural spider silk and the synthetic one, Kevlar.
The lead researcher of the study, Asa Barber, from the University of Portsmouth, UK, commented on the findings as follows:
“Spider silk has been winning this competition for a long time. I was surprised and excited that limpet teeth beat the winner”.
What are limpets?
Limpets are small marine snails with cone-shaped shells covering a foot that is used to remain firmly attached on rocks. They reside in deep waters and on rough surfs. They feed on algae using hundreds of sharp teeth to be able to detach the food from cliffs and rocks.
Patella vulgata on rocks
The ventral surface of a Patella species
Their teeth had never been thoroughly examined in the past. Until now, scientists were unaware of the tremendous potential they have in terms of strength. It was only known that the teeth would leave rocks scratched.
“Nature always develops the perfect structure for a particular mechanical job, so I thought, ‘They’ve got to be really strong,'” said professor Asa Barber in a statement.
Thinner than human hair, tougher than spider silk
Limpets from Southampton were then examined. Microscopic pieces of the teeth were analysed. Each curved tooth made 1 mm in length. Each sample was 100 times thinner than a human hair. It was found that their mineralised teeth were 10 % tougher than spider silk.
Teeth fibers thinner than human-made nanofibers
According to the researcher, each tooth was made of composite fibers whose size rendered them strong. They are so small – thousands of times thinner than the synthetic nanofibers in bulletproof vests – that the strength they confer on the organism is not affected by any flaw in the material. They are made of iron oxide mineral goethite and chitin, the combination of which makes them act like a natural plastic, as Barber pointed out.