The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying the microscopic anatomy of the paddlefish for possible military applications, like better armor, ship design and sensor arrays.
The fish, which is native to many Great Lakes states, has a long nose-like feature called a rostrum that detects the weak electric fields of tiny zooplankton. Its unique skeleton is also made up of star-shaped bones that make it flexible and yet resilient.
The study is an example of bio-inspiration, the examination of an organism’s adaptations in nature, such as gecko’s feet or a spider’s web, to create similar applications for human use.
Army scientists think that the paddlefish’s delicate sense for electricity could be copied to detect metal objects or electrical signals from explosives. And the fish’s unique bone structure may be copied for better ship or body armor, according to the Army Corps.
The paddlefish is a protected species in many states including Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota, and is presumed eliminated in Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York.