Eighth grader Hannah-Rose Roughton was on a school field trip at a beach in Cape Town, South Africa, soaking up some rays and minding her own business, when one of her classmates discovered the slimy red fish with gruesome pointy teeth pictured above. Roughton described the incident to Times Live:

“I was sitting with my friend on the rocks when we saw everybody crowding around. One of the students was holding it—it was very creepy.”

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The kids were freaked out, but also intrigued. What if it turned out to be some sort of scientific discovery?

It turns out this fish—while definitely not very photogenic—is pretty common to the area. Its scientific name is Chorisochismus dentex, more commonly called a “red rocksucker.” It feeds on sea urchins and a variety of sea slugs called limpets.

But don’t be so quick to dismiss this freaky rocksucker as harmless. RT reports thatUniversity of Portsmouth study released in the past week proved that limpet teeth are actually the strongest biological material known to exist. Seeing that the red rocksucker regularly dines on limpets, it appears that the snaggle-toothed fish is more badass than those eight graders knew.

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A cluster of limpets. (Photo: Flickr/Tim Green)

Professor Asa Barber explains more about the limpit’s teeth,

Until now we thought that spider silk was the strongest biological material because of its super-strength and potential applications in everything from bullet-proof vests to computer electronics, but now we have discovered that limpet teeth exhibit a strength that is potentially higher.”

Limpets are kind of like sea-snails, crawling across the sea floor with their homes on their backs. The researchers used atomic force microscopy to determine that limpet teeth are 100 times thinner than the diameter of a human hair—yet so strong, they could actually be used to construct boats.

Goethite, a mineral that helps make up the teeth, is the reason. Limpets have evolved to develop strong teeth so they can latch themselves onto rocks and scrape off the algae. What’s especially fascinating is that limpet teeth maintain their strength no matter how big they get.

Barber explained the importance of this part of the discovery:

“Generally a big structure has lots of flaws and can break more easily… Limpet teeth break this rule as their strength is the same no matter what the size.”

All we know is, if we see a limpet or red rocksucker anytime soon, we’re going to run screaming.

[via Times Live, RT]

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