Nature Blows My Mind! The Wonders of Shark Skin

reef shark photo
©. Michele Westmorland/Getty Images

© Michele Westmorland/Getty Images

In honor of Shark Week, we're dedicating this week's pause-and-be-awed moment to sharks -- specifically, to their amazing skin. Sharks have evolved to be perfect predators, and that means having the perfect jaws, eyes, sensory organs, and yes, skin. Shark skin has two impressive and inspiring features.

First, it is made to be perfectly hydrodynamic -- but that doesn't mean it's perfectly smooth. In fact, the texture of shark skin that helps move water past the shark with minimal drag is exactly what researchers have tried to reproduce for everything from boats and cars to swimsuits.

shark skin image

unknown/Public Domain

Here's the fascinating scoop from Ask Nature:

The very small individual scales of shark skin, called dermal denticles ("little skin teeth"), are ribbed with longitudinal grooves which result in water moving more efficiently over their surface than it would were shark scales completely featureless. Over smooth surfaces, fast-moving water begins to break up into turbulent vortices, or eddies, in part because the water flowing at the surface of an object moves slower than water flowing further away from the object. This difference in water speed causes the faster water to get "tripped up" by the adjacent layer of slower water flowing around an object, just as upstream swirls form along riverbanks.

The second impressive feature of shark skin is that it inhibits the growth of microbes and organisms that would potentially make a shark sick. Researchers have also tried to replicate this feature for bandages used in hospitals.

Sharklet Technologies is a company that has developed a synthetic surface that "deters colonization by certain disease-causing microbes." A major benefit of this surface is that because the surface works to deter microbes from growing in the first place, but does not kill them, there is no risk of creating the superbugs that have evolved to resist antibiotics used in soaps, medicines and other applications.

From moving ultra-efficiently through water to keeping us safe from germs, shark skin is incredibly inspiring. It blows our minds!!