Armored Fish

Swimming with piranhas? You’d have to be one tough cookie!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

What animal is longer than two mailboxes and loves the water? The arapaima! These giant fish live in piranha-infested waters of the Amazon river. Yet, they NEVER get bitten! HOW?

Meet Robert Ritchie and colleagues from UC Berkeley. Ritchie wondered if the arapaima’s scales acted like personal bulletproof vests.

First, the team used a powerful microscope to examine the scales’ structure. Then, each scale was sandwiched between metal plates and its resistance to breaking was measured.

Result? The scientists found that arapaima scales are ten times stronger than a human fingernail! Their unique layer pattern makes them almost impenetrable, and their mineral coating helps them bend. This combination leads to a piranha-proof body armor — with room to move!

Ritchie hopes the scales can be used as blueprints to create flexible and protective man-made materials.

Could WE wear unbreakable swimsuits one day? Maybe!  But…I for one am staying out of the piranha pool!