The craze of superhero movies recently has us thinking more about what superpower we would want — x-ray vision, the ability to change shape, flying, superhuman strength — but do we think about the ability to stick ourselves to things? Probably not our top choice, but in one example of awe-inspiring feats of nature, the lowly clingfish can actually support a whopping 300 times the fish’s weight with a sucker on its belly.
There are 161 knows species of clingfish that all range in size and function, however the one in this image and video below (and possibly the most studied of the species) is the Northern clingfish found along the Pacific coasts of Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. According to Adam Summers a biologist at the University of Washington the fish’s sucker is made of its pelvic and pectoral fins, which have converged to form a disk surrounded by tiny hexagons that appear flat to the naked eye .
“But when you look at them under a scanning electron microscope,” said Summers, “You see the top of each of those hexagons is a field of spaghetti, of long, thin hairs that are the same aspect ratio and length as the hairs on geckos’ feet or spiders’ toes or beetles’ feet.”
The Norther clingfish makes its home in the intertidal zone, so the fish spends a good time out of water when tides are low. The fish has evolved to use its gills to breath underwater and absorb oxygen through its skin when in the air. The sucker serves two purposes. First off, it allows the fish to stick to rocks in the high energy environment with tidal surges pounding the shoreline they call home.
The second purpose outlined by summers allows they to hunt their food of choice — limpets. The sucker allows them to get close to the target, settle in with their sucker to give themselves a nice launching point to snag up the tasty limpet. How do they attack their prey? “They open their mouth and thrust forward while remaining sucked down and jam their lower jaw teeth under the limpet and suck it off the rock,” said Summer.
For more details, check out the “Absurd Creature of the Week” over at WIRED or watch this video below.