Piranhas No Longer the Big Fish of the Amazonian Pond

Photo Credit: Andy

After watching the first episode of The River, not to mention hearing real-life stories of flesh eating catfish, bugs that crawl up your urethra if you pee in the water, and, of course, the famous Piranha, I’m fairly sure I never, ever, want to step into the Amazon. At least until they build me a suit that can defend me against all these creatures, without leaving me looking like the Michelin man.

That may not be too far off, with the discovery of a fish that can survive in Piranha infested lakes in the Amazon.

The 300-pound Arapaima fish is covered in armor-like protective scales that effectively protect from the vicious Piranha bite. What I like to call the Amazon’s Iron Man, the fish’s suit consists of a heavy mineralized layer that covers a softer collagen-fiber layer, stacked in alternating directions lending toughness to the outer layer in all directions.

The fish provides what scientists like to call “bioinspiration” – just a fancy way of saying that it’s nature giving us ideas for our own uses. This combination of hard outer layer and soft inner layer allows the fish the flexibility to move and could be just what our engineers need to forge flexible body armor for soldiers, as well as creating materials for fuel cells, insulation, and aerospace designs. Flexible ceramics could very well be the next big thing in the manufacturing industry.

The study was inspired by an expedition into the Amazon that our leading biomimetic (the study of natural materials from living organisms and the processes that produce them) scientist, Marc Meyers, conducted some time ago. He saw the Arapaima surviving amongst the Piranhas, who notoriously do not play nice with other creatures, and he wondered how.

Meyers claims that we are “hitting a wall” and that “we have used our ingenuity to the maximum,” so now we look to nature, just like our ancestors did when they crafted from leather, bone, and wood, in order to figure out materials that can be harder, better, faster, stronger than the synthetic ones we’re currently churning out.

While plenty of inspiration for future tech has come from the imaginations of creative geeks across the world that have created epic science fiction shows, movies, and books, sometimes we just need to take a look at the wonders that Mother Nature has managed to put together and see her elegant solutions to replicate as best we can.

Because, in the end, there’s nothing that quite creates perfection like the trial and error of natural selection over millions of years, making something uniquely suited to its environment.

[Via Science Daily]

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