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Why seahorses have square tails

seahorse skeleton

The long flexible tails of seahorses (dye-stained skeleton of Hippocampus capensis shown) are made of square segments and are one of the rare exceptions to the round tails of many other animals.

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Hammering and squishing 3-D printed seahorse tail segments reveals what’s so great about being square.

Angled bones hitched together in a flexible string of squares create protective cages that are four times stronger than rounded ones, researchers report July 3 in Science. That’s the conclusion from squeezing 3-D printed seahorse tails, one made of square segments that had been scaled up and the other an engineer’s best estimate of a round equivalent.

Distant seahorse ancestors had armored tails that could have benefited from such square protection.

Modern seahorse tails have gone prehensile. So there’s now a grip bonus, says study coauthor Michael M. Porter, an engineer at Clemson University in South Carolina. Square segments press more surface area against a perch than round ones, giving squared tails better grip control.

tail types

Planetary Science

Pluto may have spots the size of Missouri

By Christopher Crockett 12:10pm, July 2, 2015
Dark spots emerge on the surface of Pluto in recent images from the New Horizons spacecraft.
Molecular Evolution,, Animals

Genetic tweak hints at why mammoths loved the cold

By Tina Hesman Saey 12:00pm, July 2, 2015
An altered temperature sensor helped mammoths adapt to the cold.
Animals,, Evolution

Flatworm can self-fertilize by stabbing itself in the head

By Susan Milius 3:11pm, July 1, 2015
Hermaphroditic flatworms with hypodermic-style mating get sharp with themselves.
Health

Clot-snatching stroke treatment gets the green light

By Ashley Yeager 4:42pm, June 30, 2015
Snatching blood clots from the brain with a wire mesh stent is a new stroke treatment that is now supported in the United States.
Neuroscience

Old fruit flies’ swagger restored with brain chemical dopamine

By Laura Sanders 2:34pm, June 30, 2015
Replenishing the chemical communicator dopamine to a handful of nerve cells makes old flies feel frisky again.
Earth,, Technology

Leap second helps us with the reality of time

By Christopher Crockett 6:00am, June 30, 2015
A leap second will be inserted at the end of the day on June 30.
Neuroscience

Pain may come in his and hers

By Laura Sanders 11:59am, June 29, 2015
Males and females rely on different kinds of cells to carry pain signals, a mouse study suggests.
Astronomy

Advice to a baby planet: Avoid black holes

By Christopher Crockett 11:00am, June 26, 2015
A dust cloud looping around the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole might have once been an infant planet.
Plants,, Health

Poppy yields the final secret to making morphine

By Bethany Brookshire 4:08pm, June 25, 2015
Scientists have successfully transplanted most of the morphine synthesis pathway from poppies to yeast. Now the final step is ready to be put in place.

Tiny tweaks helped flu strains thwart 2014-2015 vaccine

By Meghan Rosen 12:01pm, June 25, 2015
Changes to the flu strains circulating around the Northern Hemisphere explain why last year’s flu vaccine didn’t work so well.
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