BIOMECHANICS. Why the seahorse tail is square

Science. 2015 Jul 3;349(6243):aaa6683. doi: 10.1126/science.aaa6683. Epub 2015 Jul 2.


Whereas the predominant shapes of most animal tails are cylindrical, seahorse tails are square prisms. Seahorses use their tails as flexible grasping appendages, in spite of a rigid bony armor that fully encases their bodies. We explore the mechanics of two three-dimensional-printed models that mimic either the natural (square prism) or hypothetical (cylindrical) architecture of a seahorse tail to uncover whether or not the square geometry provides any functional advantages. Our results show that the square prism is more resilient when crushed and provides a mechanism for preserving articulatory organization upon extensive bending and twisting, as compared with its cylindrical counterpart. Thus, the square architecture is better than the circular one in the context of two integrated functions: grasping ability and crushing resistance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bioengineering*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Computer Simulation
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Printing, Three-Dimensional
  • Smegmamorpha / anatomy & histology*
  • Smegmamorpha / physiology*
  • Tail / anatomy & histology*
  • Tail / physiology*