Olympic swimmers shave their bodies before a big race to break records. Swordfish use a different trick, a new study suggests: They grease their heads. The fish (Xiphias gladius) are among the fastest in the ocean — their streamlined bodies can cut through the water at about 90 kilometers per hour.
A newly discovered oil-producing organ in the fish’s head gives it slick skin that could boost its speed, scientists report in the July 6 Journal of Experimental Biology. MRI scans show that the organ links to tiny pores on the head that ooze the oil, creating a thin layer of lubrication on the skin’s surface.
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Tiny ridged structures called denticles surround the pores. Denticles look like scales but are made of dentine and enamel, like teeth. The scientists, a team from the Netherlands, think the lubrication and the textured denticles might work together, making a water-repelling surface that lets swordfish glide through the water with minimal drag.