Square tail tale reported in ScienceDaily 2 July 2015 and Science doi: 10.1126/science.aaa6683 3 July 2015. A group of researchers led by Michael Porter, a mechanical engineer at Clemson University, have studied seahorse tails to see why they have such an unusual shape. Seahorses are covered in rigid bony armour plating and their tails are made of a series of plates that are square in cross-section. This is most unusual as most animal tails are smoothly curved and round or oval in cross-section.

The seahorse’s square plates are each made up of four L-shaped corner plates that can pivot and glide on one another. They are also connected to the vertebrae inside the tail by strong fibrous connective tissue.

In order to work out how the tail worked the research team used 3D printing to construct a “tail” made of square segments like those in the seahorse tail. They then tested it for strength and flexibility and compared it with a tail made of round segments.

They found the square segments enabled the tail to be highly flexible for grasping, but strongly resisted compressive forces that would otherwise crush the tail as it has joints at the exact locations where the solid structures fail when crushed, which enables it to absorb more energy on impact. The plates also moved with twisting forces, and passively returned to their original configurations when the tail relaxed.

The researchers concluded: “Thus, the square architecture is better than the circular one in the context of two integrated functions: grasping ability and crushing resistance”.


Editorial Comment: Sometimes the best way to see how something works is to try to make one. To make a structure that worked like a seahorse tail involved some creative design, and the use of another cleverly designed machine – the 3D printer. Furthermore, the 3D printed tail only simulated the bony plates. It did not contain the vertebrae, muscles and connective tissue that are also essential for the real tail to work. To make one with contractile muscles and link it up to a control system would take much more clever design, and that should only remind these scientists of how great is the God who designed the seahorse in the first place. (Ref. design, biomechanics, fish)

Evidence News vol. 15, No. 12
15 July 2015
Creation Research Australia