Recently, we noted a claim that nature prefers hexagons, but a reader has written in to say that nature prefers squares.
He adduces in evidence: Science published an interesting paper last year about the fact that the square shape of the seahorse tail creates a robust, rigid, yet flexible tail, more so than the typical circular/cylindrical shape you see in animal tails.
Most animals and plants approximate a cylinder in shape, and where junctions occur (as with branches of trees or limbs on animals), those corners are “faired,” meaning smoothly curved so that one surface grades into the next (1). When living organisms deviate from the norm, there’s usually a good biomechanical reason: a clue to some specific problem that needs to be solved. Among their suite of unusual characteristics, seahorses possess a true oddity: a prehensile tail with a square, rather than round or elliptical, cross-sectional shape. On page 10.1126/science.aaa6683 of this issue, Porter et al. (2) report that there are distinct mechanical advantages to being square. Using three-dimensional (3D) printing to construct physical models, the team demonstrates that the multiplated anatomy of the square seahorse tail shows greater resistance to mechanical deformation than a similar model that has a round cross section. Paper. (paywall)
Some argue that squre-ishness could lead to better robots (possibly clunkier ones?)
Overall, it sounds like nature is doing some thinking, or someone is.
See also: Someone at Nautilus thinks Nature prefers hexagons, and offered to explain why. The article is written as if nature in and of itself is an engineer. Funny how, as humans come less and less to be seen as persons, nature becomes more and more so. Is there a pattern there too?
Follow UD News at Twitter!