The Loh Down On Science

How muscles create force will surprise you

The mechanics of biting?  It’s literally a matter of life or death!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Bite mechanics involve jaw size and strength.  And what’s eaten factors in.  Chomp on tidbits too big or too small? That weakens impact.  That's because muscle force depends on how far a muscle stretches.  Oddly, maximum force comes from stretching just midway.

Biologist Nicholas Gidmark of Brown University decided to examine the effect.  He looked at black carp, a fish that eats snails by cracking their shells.

Gidmark trained the carp to eat fake snails—ceramic tubes of several sizes and hardness, stuffed with fish food.

And?  Each fish found its ideal tube size and the perfect force to crack it.  If it tried another size, it bit with the wrong pressure and couldn’t crack the tube.

Gidmark says this demonstrates coevolution.  If snails in an ecosystem begin growing bigger or smaller, carp must adapt or go hungry.

It’s no open and shut matter: As carp would say, Darwinism really bites!

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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