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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

Rosetta mission extended until September 2016

By Christopher Crockett 4:25pm, June 23, 2015
The Rosetta spacecraft will explore comet 67P through September 2016 and then may go to sleep on the comet’s surface.
Planetary Science

Pluto and Charon’s orbital dance captured in color

By Christopher Crockett 3:00pm, June 22, 2015
New Horizons has captured the first true-color movie of Pluto and Charon orbiting one another.
Planetary Science

Evidence mounts for active volcanoes on Venus

By Christopher Crockett 7:00am, June 19, 2015
The Venus Express orbiter detected possible signs of active volcanism on the planet next door.
Planetary Science

NASA moves ahead with a mission to Europa

By Christopher Crockett 2:37pm, June 18, 2015
A NASA mission slated for the 2020s to Jupiter’s icy moon will try to figure out if the ocean there is habitable.
Earth

Dinosaurs may not have seen the Grand Canyon after all

By Thomas Sumner 6:00am, June 18, 2015
New geologic comparisons peg the Grand Canyon’s inception well after dinosaurs went extinct.
Animals,, Evolution

Unpredictable egg scramble throws off parasitic parents

By Ashley Yeager 7:35pm, June 17, 2015
Eggs of some species of warbler and weaver birds appear to have individual signatures, which can help distinguish them from the eggs of parasitic cuckoos.
Astronomy

Mars-sized exoplanet is smallest to have its mass measured

By Christopher Crockett 1:00pm, June 17, 2015
The smallest exoplanet to be weighed is a hot, rocky cousin of the Red Planet.
Neuroscience

Homunculus reimagined

By Laura Sanders 5:16pm, June 16, 2015
A new study pinpoints the part of the brain that controls the neck muscles, tweaking the motor homunculus.
Microbes,, Technology

Spore-powered engines zoom ahead

By Beth Mole 11:00am, June 16, 2015
Engines that run on the dehydration of bacterial spores can power a tiny car and an LED.
Health,, Clinical Trials

Antibiotics an alternative to surgery for appendicitis

By Meghan Rosen 11:00am, June 16, 2015
Doctors could abandon routine surgery for uncomplicated cases of appendicitis, a new study suggests.
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