A group of remoras, freeloading off a bull shark (Photo: Shutterstock)

Study of remoras may lead to new adhesives

By Ben Coxworth
February 22, 2013

If you’ve seen even a few minutes of any documentary on sharks, then chances are you’ve seen a remora. They’re the smaller fish that hitch rides on sharks by sucking onto them. Not only are the remoras able to achieve a seal against their hosts’ rough, sandpaper-like skin, but they also don’t appear to harm that skin in the process. Researchers from the Georgia Tech Research Institute are now studying how the remoras manage this, in hopes of applying their findings to the development of next-generation adhesives.

Remoras are thought to latch onto sharks for three main reasons – it’s easier than swimming that same distance themselves, predators aren’t too likely to approach them with their toothy host nearby, and they get to eat the food scraps that the shark creates while tearing into unfortunate sea creatures.

They’re able to hold on not by using their mouths, but with a sucker on their back. That structure is actually a dorsal fin, that through the course of evolution has flattened. It has a lip of fleshy tissue around its perimeter to create a seal against the shark skin, but it also has an oval disk in the middle, made up of rows of louvered plates known as lamellae.

Each lamella, in turn, incorporates rows of tooth-like structures called spinules. The scientists noted that the spacing between the spinules was very similar to the spacing of the scales of the mako shark, allowing the spinules to non-destructively fit between those scales. This, needless to say, allows for excellent adhesion between the two – that said, remoras are also pretty good at sucking onto other things, such as sea turtles.

Read more: Study of remoras may lead to new adhesives — gizmag.

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