Shark Skin Is Covered With Tiny Teeth, Which Adds A Whole New Dimension To Your Nightmares

392957 03: (FILE PHOTO) A shark swims in a tank at the New York Aquarium August 7, 2001 in Coney Island, New York City. Florida''s Pasco county issued a shark warning August 14, 2001 after hundreds of sharks were spotted schooling off the coast near a popular beach area. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Source: Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Turns out Jaws was just the tip of the iceberg. Shark skin is covered with tiny teeth — because the ones they have in their mouths weren't intimidating enough, apparently. Scientists used a 3D-printed model to study these tiny "denticles" — which help to make sharks the great swimmers that they are — in order to replicate the effect in a synthetic skin. 

The denticles have never been this closely replicated before, but with 3D printing technology, scientists finally have something to work with. Researcher George Lauder of Harvard University and his team took a scan of a tiny sample of skin from the mako shark, then built a 3D model of a single denticle, measuring at just 0.15mm long. They then had to attach thousands of these tiny models to a smooth, flexible membrane to create a synthetic skin similar to the shark's. The whole thing took them about a year.

So how do these tiny little teeth help you go faster? Apparently, creating turbulence near the edge of a moving object actually helps push the water down and create less drag for the shark. Lauder also cited the change in water flow as another factor. "It can help suck the fish forward," he told BBC News. "The structure of the skin may actually increase the thrust — the engine of propulsion — rather than just reducing the drag."

When researchers completed the skin, the test results were clear: these tiny teeth-things do aid swimming. A paddle with the new denticle-covered skin was able to swim up to 6.6 percent faster than a paddle with regular, smooth skin, while also expending 5.9 percent less energy. Considering sharks spend the bulk of their day swimming, some even while they sleep, these little teeth scales are a major help. 

When will synthetic skins like this start appearing on bikinis and Speedos? Don't hold your breath (pun absolutely intended). According to Professor Lauder, it could take decades to mass-produce these for the public — "but if you could do it, you would see a dramatic effect on swimming performance!"

So whether you're a die-hard fan of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel or you won't even go swimming at the Rockaways for fear of a shark attack, there's one thing both camps can agree on: the shark is a magnificent creature and it should be respected. If you're still not convinced, here are some interesting facts we bet you didn't know about the mighty shark.



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