Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Limpets can make their damaged shells good as new using biological materials derived from within.
When David Taylor, a professor of materials engineering at Trinity College Dublin, tested patches of repaired limpet shells, he discovered the mended portions were just as strong as the original shell material.
Limpets are a type of sea snail with conical shells. They're often found attached to the underside of coastal rocks. Absent from limpet shells is the coiling typical of the shells of garden snails.
Taylor's analysis of limpet shells using electron microscopy also revealed a weakness. Though limpet shells are quite strong, able to withstand single impacts, they are vulnerable to repeated impacts. Multiple impacts trigger a type of failure known as "spalling."
Taylor's findings -- detailed in the Journal of Experimental Biology -- suggest both original and repaired limpet shells are equally susceptible to spalling.
The study of the structure and chemical composition of shells can yield interesting biomechanical insights.
"[Limpets] have evolved mechanisms for adhering very strongly to the underlying rock and are also equipped with a set of very hard teeth," Taylor said in a news release. "But they also have this very hard, stiff shell and it is this feature I was interested in knowing more about."
The limpet is a reminder that structural failure isn't exclusively a human problem.
"As engineers we often gain inspiration for solutions to real-world problems from nature, and from the way different plants and animals have adapted to life in harsh environments," Taylor said. "Spalling is evidently one problem that doesn't have a perfect solution -- whether you are a concrete foreman overseeing a building site or a limpet trying to speedily repair his or her home on the seashore."