- Researchers in the UK say limpet teeth may contain the strongest natural material known to man
- Spider silk was previously thought to be the strongest substance
- The findings are a source of inspiration for engineering, such as the structures of F1 cars and aircrafts
The aquatic, dome-shaped creatures that are found clinging to rocky shores have set a new record previously held by spiders.
"Until now we thought that spider silk was the strongest biological material because of its super-strength and potential applications in everything from bullet-proof vests to computer electronics," Professor Asa Barber who led the study said in a statement.
"But now we have discovered that limpet teeth exhibit a strength that is potentially higher."
The researchers from the University of Portsmouth's School of Engineering said they used atomic force microscopy to pull apart the material, almost 100 times thinner than the diameter of human hair, right down to the atom.
The findings were published in the Royal Society journal Interface. They are not only surprising, but Barber said they are a source of inspiration for engineering, setting the blueprint for structures such as Formula One racing cars, boat hulls and aircrafts.
"All the things we observe around us, such as trees, the shells of sea creatures and the limpet teeth studied in this work, have evolved to be effective at what they do," said Barber.
The key substance in the tiny teeth is a hard mineral known as goethite, which forms in the limpet as it grows and enables them to move over rock surfaces and feed on algae while the tide is in. And the teeth maintain their strength regardless of their size.
"Generally a big structure has lots of flaws and can break more easily than a smaller structure, which has fewer flaws and is stronger. The problem is that most structures have to be fairly big so they're weaker than we would like." said Barber.
" Limpet teeth break this rule as their strength is the same no matter what the size."