limpet teeth
Limpet teeth are the strongest material in the world.University of Portsmouth

Limpet teeth are made of what could be the strongest natural material ever discovered.

The small snail-like creature with conical shells has beaten spider silk to become the creature with the strongest biological material known to man, scientists from the University of Portsmouth said.

Researchers said the structures are so strong they could be used to make cars, boats and planes in the future.

Study leader Asa Barber said: "Until now we thought that spider silk was the strongest biological material because of its super-strength and potential applications in everything from bulletproof vests to computer electronics but now we have discovered that limpet teeth exhibit a strength that is potentially higher."

limpet
Limpets need very strong teeth to grasp to rock surfaces.University of Portsmouth

The limpet teeth contain a mineral called goethite, which forms as the creature grows. The material tested was about 100 times thinner than the diameter of a human hair.

Their findings, published in Royal Society journal Interface, showed limpet teeth are the same strength no matter what size they are. Big structures normally have more flaws so can break more easily, but the limpet teeth "break this rule".

"Limpets need high strength teeth to rasp over rock surfaces and remove algae for feeding when the tide is in. We discovered that the fibres of goethite are just the right size to make up a resilient composite structure," Barber said.

Speaking about the importance of the discovery, he added: "This discovery means that the fibrous structures found in limpet teeth could be mimicked and used in high-performance engineering applications such as Formula 1 racing cars, the hulls of boats and aircraft structures."