There are plenty of examples of nature coming up with better inventions than us humans. From the feat of seemingly gravity-defying geckos to powerful chemicals in the venom of cone shells, researchers have discovered new ways to turn nature’s inventions into useful human ones.

According to a report from the University of Washington, a team of researchers investigating the way Northern Clingfish can use their natural suction cups to stick to an amazing variety of surfaces, are thinking that better suction cups are on the way.

Now I’m making light of this a little, there’s actually a lot of sensible science going on here. The team looked at how the structure of the disc that Clingfish use to attach to rocks allows them to stick to uneven, wet, and even slimy surfaces. The rim of the disc is covered with what the team describe as:

“…layers of micro-sized, hair like structures, in many different sizes. This layered effect creates more friction along the rim and helps the fish stick to rough surfaces. The entire disk is flexible and elastic, allowing it to adapt and hold on to coarse, uneven surfaces.”

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These fish have been refining their ‘suction cups’ for thousands of generations and are able to quickly attach and release with a force that holds 230 times their own body weight.

“These fish are so evocative in what they can do. They can stick to irregular rocks covered in algae, and you cannot buy something that will reversibly stick to those rocks,” said co-author Adam Summers, a professor of biology and of aquatic and fishery sciences based at Friday Harbor Labs. “An awful lot of experimentation and scepticism finally led us to understanding how it worked.”

The team have now created their own prototype that could be used in a variety of industries, but in the report, they note how useful the product could be for tagging whales and other marine animals as well as a wealth of more mundane products.

You can read the full news article here:
https://www.washington.edu/news/2019/10/02/inspired-by-northern-clingfish-researchers-make-a-better-suction-cup/

image credit: Petra Ditsche

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