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Seahorse Tails

July 6, 2015

The seahorse’s unique tail structure is inspiring mechanical engineers.



ACTA_seahorse skeletal plus squares courtesy Michael Porter

Seahorse skeleton with square cross-sections of tail shown in color. The unique bony plate construction of the tail helps it withstand extreme compression. (courtesy of Michael Porter)

A tale of seahorse tails. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The seahorse is one of the coolest animals in the ocean, but also one of the squarest: its tail is made up of bony plates that form a square in cross-section. The tail is remarkably dextrous, firmly grasping onto seagrass or coral as the animal feeds. These unique features have caught the attention of engineers. To test the strength, flexibility and grip of the seahorse’s square tail, Clemson University mechanical engineer Michael Porter and his team created 3-D models of the tail and compared them to cylindrical ones. They report in the journal Science that the square model outperformed the round one across the board.  

MICHAEL PORTER (Clemson University):

It is stiffer, stronger, and more resilient than the cylindrical one.


The researchers think understanding the seahorse’s tail architecture could lead to improvements in body armor and better surgical robots. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

gripping_models courtesy of Michael Porter

Models showing how round and square tail structures grip objects. The square cross-section allows more surface contact with the object than the round one, resulting in a stronger grip. (courtesy of Michael Porter)