Picture the scene in Finding Nemo when Dory and Marlin slimly escape the deadly jaws of the anglerfish. Now imagine what would have happened if Marlin had not spotted the teeth about to prey on them – Finding Nemo would have been a much shorter movie. Luckily, the dynamic duo had not been attacked by a dragonfish, a deep-sea predator with a unique adaptation: transparent teeth.
The purpose of transparent teeth is to camouflage the dragonfish from their prey. Dragonfish pair their crystal-clear teeth with a dark body, making the predator virtually invisible. In a low- to no-light environment, undetectability makes dragonfish among some of the top predators of the deep. These relatively small fish (about 15 cm in length) spend most of their time lying in wait with their jaws open. Any particle of light in that environment could reflect off their teeth and expose the hunter’s position, making translucent teeth essential for dragonfish survival.
Details regarding the evolution of clear chompers remained unexplored until recently, when an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of California San Diego decided to dig deeper.
Typical tooth architecture includes microscopic networks called dentin tubules that give other animals’ teeth, including human teeth, their color. Dragonfish lack dentin tubules, and thus have colourless teeth. Additionally, tiny mineral crystals, called hydroxyapatite nanocrystals, in the outermost layer of the dragonfish tooth are uniquely structured to prevent light from scattering or reflecting off the tooth surface. These nanocrystals not only contribute to the transparency of the fangs, but also make them stronger than some of the most infamous predators, including great white sharks and piranhas.
Naturally occurring phenomena have inspired engineers and biologists to develop state-of-the-art technology in the field of biomimetics, and dragonfish teeth are no exception. The nanocrystal structure may be able to serve as a guide for future materials that require a sleek, transparent appearance in conjunction with extraordinary mechanical strength – another great example of how precious and influential nature can be.
Can you think of any other examples of naturally occurring phenomena that has inspired modern innovation?
Latest posts by Kameron Wong (see all)
- The Naked Tooth: Naturally occurring phenomena as an inspiration for modern innovation - June 13, 2019
- Night of the Swimming Dead: Undying Spirit of Deep Sea Fish Offers Medical Insight - April 26, 2019
- Back to the Fuel-ture - March 24, 2019