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"Nature has evolved a very clever design in this saddle," says senior author Ali Miserez, a materials scientist who studies unique biological structures at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. "If it was made of one homogeneous material, it would be very brittle. It would for sure break."
Previous research from the lab of biologist Sheila Patek had examined the mantis shrimp's dactyl clubs -- the appendages they use to attack their prey -- and suggested that muscles alone couldn't be creating the amount of force with which the crustaceans strike. Other research had hypothesized that the saddle might be used to store elastic energy, but studying the structure and mechanical properties of the saddle was challenging. "The movement is so fast that people hadn't been able to focus just on the saddle itself, which is why we needed to study it by computer simulation," says Miserez.
Team - Composition - Saddle - Micro-measurements - Materials
His team analyzed the composition of the saddle, making micro-measurements of the materials' mechanical properties to develop a simulation of the mantis shrimp's strike. They found that the top layer of the saddle is composed mostly of a relatively brittle bioceramic similar to tooth or bone, while the underside contains a higher content of biopolymers, which are fibrous like a rope and therefore strong when pulled on. When the mantis shrimp's muscles and connective tissues load energy into the saddle, the top layer is compressed and the bottom layer is stretched, meaning that each layer is placed under the forces it is best able to withstand.
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