To build a shark: 3D tiling laws of tessellated cartilage

  • The endoskeleton of sharks and rays (elasmobranchs) is comprised of a cartilaginous core, covered by thousands of mineralized tiles, called tesserae. Characterizing the relationship between tesseral morphometrics, skeletal growth and mechanics is challenging because tesserae are small (a few hundred micrometers wide), anchored to the surrounding tissue in complex three-dimensional ways, and occur in huge numbers. We integrate material property, histology, electron microscopy and synchrotron and laboratory µCT scans of skeletal elements from an ontogenetic series of round stingray Urobatis halleri, to gain insights into the generation and maintenance of a natural tessellated system. Using a custom-made semiautomatic segmentation algorithm, we present the first quantitative and 3d description of tesserae across whole skeletal elements. The tessellation is not interlocking or regular, with tesserae showing a great range of shapes, sizes and number of neighbors. This is partly region-dependent: for example, thick, columnar tesserae are arranged in series along convex edges with small radius of curvature (RoC), whereas more brick- or disc-shaped tesserae are found in planar/flatter areas. Comparison of the tessellation across ontogeny, shows that in younger animals, the forming tesseral network is less densely packed, appearing as a covering of separate, poorly mineralized islands that grow together with age to form a complete surface. Some gaps in the tessellation are localized to specific regions in all samples, indicating they are real features, perhaps either regions of delayed mineralization or of tendon insertion. We will use the structure of elasmobranch skeletons as a road map for understanding shark and ray skeletal mechanics, but also to extract fundamental engineering principles for tiled composite materials.

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Author:M. N. Dean, R. Seidel, D. Knötel, K. Lyons, D. Baum, J. C. Weaver, P. Fratzl
Document Type:In Proceedings
Parent Title (English):Abstract in Integrative and Comparative Biology; conference Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology annual meeting, January 3-7, 2016, Portland, USA
Volume:56 (suppl 1)
Year of first publication:2016

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