Radular stylus of Cryptochiton stelleri: A multifunctional lightweight and flexible fiber-reinforced composite

Anna Pohl, Steven A. Herrera, David Restrepo, Ryo Negishi, Jae Young Jung, Chris Salinas, Richard Wuhrer, Tomoko Yoshino, Joanna McKittrick, Atsushi Arakaki, Michiko Nemoto, Pablo Zavattieri, David Kisailus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Chitons are herbivorous invertebrates that use rows of ultrahard magnetite-based teeth connected to a flexible belt (radula) to rasp away algal deposits growing on and within rocky outcrops along coastlines around the world. Each tooth is attached to the radula by an organic structure (stylus) that provides mechanical support during feeding. However, the underlying structures within the stylus, and their subsequent function within the chiton have yet to be investigated. Here, we investigate the macrostructural architecture, the regional material and elemental distribution and subsequent nano-mechanical properties of the stylus from the Northern Pacific dwelling Cryptochiton stelleri. Using a combination of μ-CT imaging, optical and electron microscopy, as well as elemental analysis, we reveal that the stylus is a highly contoured tube, mainly composed of alpha-chitin fibers, with a complex density distribution. Nanoindentation reveals regiospecific and graded mechanical properties that can be correlated with both the elemental composition and material distribution. Finite element modeling shows that the unique macroscale architecture, material distribution and elemental gradients have been optimized to preserve the structural stability of this flexible, yet robust functionally-graded fiber-reinforced composite tube, providing effective function during rasping. Understanding these complex fiber-based structures offers promising blueprints for lightweight, multifunctional and integrated materials.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103991
JournalJournal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Biocomposite
  • Flexible
  • Force transduction
  • Mollusk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomaterials
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Mechanics of Materials


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