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Scientists find that squid beak is both hard and soft, a material that engineers want to copy
Date:3/27/2008

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) How did nature make the squids beak super hard and sharp allowing it, without harm to its soft body to capture its prey?

The question has captivated those interested in creating new materials that mimic biological materials. The results are published in this weeks issue of the journal Science.

The sharp beak of the Humboldt squid is one of the hardest and stiffest organic materials known. Engineers, biologists, and marine scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, have joined forces to discover how the soft, gelatinous squid can operate its knife-like beak without tearing itself to pieces.

UC Santa Barbara is a mecca for this type of interdisciplinary study, and draws scientists and engineers from all over the world to grapple with questions that cross a wide range of science and engineering disciplines.

The key to the squid beak lies in the gradations of stiffness. The tip is extremely stiff, yet the base is 100 times more compliant, allowing it to blend with surrounding tissue. However, this only works when the base of the beak is wet. After it dries out, the base becomes similarly stiff as the already desiccated beak tip.

Humboldt squids, or Dosidicus gigas, are about three feet wide and can injure a fish with one swift motion. According to the article, a squid beak can sever the nerve cord to paralyze prey for later leisurely dining.

Squids can be aggressive, whimsical, suddenly mean, and they are always hungry, said Herb Waite, co-author and professor of biology at UC Santa Barbara. You wouldnt want to be diving next to one. A dozen of them could eat you, or really hurt you a lot. The creatures are very fast and swim by jet propulsion.

Besides humans, squids main predator is the sperm whale, and these animals frequently show the scars of battle, with skin marred by the squids sharp suckers. Waite noted that squid muscle is available in loc
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Contact: Gail Gallessich
gail.g@ia.ucsb.edu
805-893-7220
University of California - Santa Barbara
Source:Eurekalert

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