Boxfish Bioinspiration

The Boxfish has recently proved a great source of bioinspiration for researchers searching for newer, stronger, more flexible materials.

Despite its small size, the Boxfish has thrived for over 35 million years despite being surrounded by larger, more aggressive fish at a depths of over 50 meters below the ocean’s surface. They key to its longevity appear to be its most unusual materiality featuring hexagonally shaped scales.

Most fish have scales that overlap. This overlapping of scales reduces their weak points and their vulnerability to predators. The Boxfish however has raised, star-like scales called scutes that are connected by sutures,which are similar to the connections found in a baby’s skull before the bone solidifies. In short, the  scutes give the fish a super hard frame, while the soft suture give the fish super flexibility.

A research team from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) recently tested the strength of the Boxfish’s dual layered defences by pulling them apart both vertically and horizontally. They found that the sutures play a big part in the durability of the overall setup, exhibiting a zigzag pattern that locks the scutes together upon impact. The team believes that continued study of the boxfish’s protective attributes could lead to more effective body armor. The US Air Force has taken interest and is funding their research.

The UCSD team recently published the findings of its study in the journal Acta Materialia.