Limpets Sink Their Teeth In

SCIENCE

Nature’s latest discovered supermaterial comes from a decidedly modest creature: A type of mollusk found on the rocky shores of western Europe. (Nat Geo News)

Take a look at our coloring page to see where limpets live.

Teachers, scroll down for a short list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Behold the common European limpet—or, rather, four of them. Like all limpets, this species (Patella vulgata) is a marine gastropod—sea snail. (The limpet on its back is showing off its single, snail-like foot.) As their name implies, these clingy little creatures can be found in rocky tide pools and beaches throughout Western Europe. Photograph by Janekpfeifer, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0

Behold the common European limpet—or, rather, four of them. Like all limpets, this species (Patella vulgata) is a marine gastropod—sea snail. The limpet on its back is showing off its single, snail-like foot. You’d also have to flip a limpet on its back to see its teeth, but you can’t see the limpet’s teeth in this photo—the limpet isn’t eating and the teeth are far too tiny to see with the naked eye anyway. Luckily, we have electron microscopes and scientists smart enough to use them . . . 
Photograph by Janekpfeifer, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0

The microscopic teeth of the common European limpet—seen here with a scanning electron microscope—are the strongest natural material yet documented. © 2015 Asa H. Barber, Dun Lu, and Nicola M. Pugno. Published by the Royal Society CC-BY-4.0.

The teeth of the common European limpet—seen here in false color with a scanning electron microscope—are the strongest natural material yet documented.
© 2015 Asa H. Barber, Dun Lu, and Nicola M. Pugno. Published by the Royal Society CC-BY-4.0.

Discussion Ideas

This image shows the ribbon-like radula of a common European limpet. The limpet's radula contains bands of teeth—1,920 teeth, to be exact. © 2015 Asa H. Barber, Dun Lu, and Nicola M. Pugno. Published by the Royal Society CC-BY-4.0.

This image shows the ribbon-like radula of a common European limpet. The limpet’s radula contains bands of teeth—1,920 teeth, to be exact.
© 2015 Asa H. Barber, Dun Lu, and Nicola M. Pugno. Published by the Royal Society CC-BY-4.0.

 

This image shows the changing orientation of a limpet's goethite teeth. © 2015 Asa H. Barber, Dun Lu, and Nicola M. Pugno. Published by the Royal Society CC-BY-4.0.

This image (complete with helpful arrow) shows the changing orientation of a limpet’s goethite teeth.
© 2015 Asa H. Barber, Dun Lu, and Nicola M. Pugno. Published by the Royal Society CC-BY-4.0.

 

  • Goethite is not the strongest mineral on Earth. (That’s probably diamond, depending on how you define “strong.”) Why do nanofibers of goethite contribute to the strength of limpet teeth? Watch this video for some help.
    • Substances in the nano-world behave differently than the same material does in our world. The color, surface area, and tensile strength of a substance can all change at the nanoscale. In particular, “Limpets are clever because they use mineral fibers below a particular size, where flaws [in the fibers] don’t affect the strength of the composite structure,” says one engineer quoted in the Nat Geo News article.

 

  • The Nat Geo News article says the strength of a limpet’s teeth may inspire materials engineers. Can you think of some uses for such strong material? (Nat Geo came up with two.)
    • Vehicles: “For instance, racing bikes and race cars use light, strong composite materials to cope with stress, and a limpet-tooth-inspired design could help engineers build a stronger chassis that doesn’t sacrifice speed.”
    • Protective gear: The limpet teeth displayed almost twice the tensile strength of Kevlar.

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Nat Geo: Modest Mollusk May Sport World’s Strongest Material

Nat Geo: Rocky Shore Ecosystem

A Snail’s Odyssey: Learn About Limpets

(extra credit!) Interface: Extreme strength observed in limpet teeth

2 responses to “Limpets Sink Their Teeth In

  1. Pingback: Your Tooth Enamel Might Have Started As Fish Scales | Nat Geo Education Blog·

  2. Pingback: Circle of Life | Nat Geo Education Blog·

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