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1.  Non-Contaminating Camouflage: Multifunctional Skin Microornamentation in the West African Gaboon Viper (Bitis rhinoceros) 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e91087.
The West African Gaboon viper (Bitis rhinoceros) has an extraordinary coloration of pale brown and velvety black markings. The velvety black appearance is caused by a unique hierarchical surface structures which was not found on the pale brown scales. In the present study we examined the wettability of the vipeŕs scales by measuring contact angles of water droplets. Velvet black scale surfaces had high static contact angles beyond 160° and low roll-off angles below 20° indicating an outstanding superhydrophobicity. Our calculations showed that the Cassie-Baxter model describes well wettability effects for these surfaces. Self-cleaning capabilities were determined by contaminating the scales with particles and fogging them until droplets formed. Black scales were clean after fogging, while pale scales stayed contaminated. Black scales feature multifunctional structures providing not only water-repellent but also self-cleaning properties. The pattern of nanoridges can be used as a model for surface-active technical surfaces.
PMCID: PMC3944882  PMID: 24599379
2.  Diving-Flight Aerodynamics of a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e86506.
This study investigates the aerodynamics of the falcon Falco peregrinus while diving. During a dive peregrines can reach velocities of more than 320 km h−1. Unfortunately, in freely roaming falcons, these high velocities prohibit a precise determination of flight parameters such as velocity and acceleration as well as body shape and wing contour. Therefore, individual F. peregrinus were trained to dive in front of a vertical dam with a height of 60 m. The presence of a well-defined background allowed us to reconstruct the flight path and the body shape of the falcon during certain flight phases. Flight trajectories were obtained with a stereo high-speed camera system. In addition, body images of the falcon were taken from two perspectives with a high-resolution digital camera. The dam allowed us to match the high-resolution images obtained from the digital camera with the corresponding images taken with the high-speed cameras. Using these data we built a life-size model of F. peregrinus and used it to measure the drag and lift forces in a wind-tunnel. We compared these forces acting on the model with the data obtained from the 3-D flight path trajectory of the diving F. peregrinus. Visualizations of the flow in the wind-tunnel uncovered details of the flow structure around the falcon’s body, which suggests local regions with separation of flow. High-resolution pictures of the diving peregrine indicate that feathers pop-up in the equivalent regions, where flow separation in the model falcon occurred.
PMCID: PMC3914994  PMID: 24505258
3.  The brain creates illusions not just for us: sharks (Chiloscyllium griseum) can “see the magic” as well 
Bamboo sharks (Chiloscyllium griseum) were tested for their ability to perceive subjective and illusionary contours as well as line length illusions. Individuals were first trained to differentiate between squares, triangles, and rhomboids in a series of two alternative forced-choice experiments. Transfer tests then elucidated whether Kanizsa squares and triangles, grating gaps and phase shifted abutting gratings were also perceived and distinguished. The visual systems of most vertebrates and even invertebrates perceive illusionary contours despite the absence of physical luminance, color or textural differences. Sharks are no exception to the rule; all tasks were successfully mastered within 3–24 training sessions, with sharks discriminating between various sets of Kanizsa figures and alternative stimuli, as well as between subjective contours in >75% of all tests. However, in contrast to Kanizsa figures and subjective contours, sharks were not deceived by Müller-Lyer (ML) illusions. Here, two center lines of equal length are comparatively set between two arrowheads or –tails, in which case the line featuring the two arrow tails appears to be longer to most humans, primates and birds. In preparation for this experiment, lines of varying length, and lines of unequal length randomly featuring either two arrowheads or -tails on their ends, were presented first. Both sets of lines were successfully distinguished by most sharks. However, during presentation of the ML illusions sharks failed to succeed and succumbed either to side preferences or chose according to chance.
PMCID: PMC3960505  PMID: 24688458
optical illusion; Kanizsa; subjective contour; Müller-Lyer deception; elasmobranch; Chiloscyllium griseum
4.  Vortex Formation with a Snapping Shrimp Claw 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e77120.
Snapping shrimp use one oversized claw to generate a cavitating high speed water jet for hunting, defence and communication. This work is an experimental investigation about the jet generation. Snapping shrimp (Alpheus-bellulus) were investigated by using an enlarged transparent model reproducing the closure of the snapper claw. Flow inside the model was studied using both High-Speed Particle Image Velocimetry (HS-PIV) and flow visualization. During claw closure a channel-like cavity was formed between the plunger and the socket featuring a nozzle-type contour at the orifice. Closing the mechanism led to the formation of a leading vortex ring with a dimensionless formation number of approximate ΔT*≈4. This indicates that the claw might work at maximum efficiency, i.e. maximum vortex strength was achieved by a minimum of fluid volume ejected. The subsequent vortex cavitation with the formation of an axial reentrant jet is a reasonable explanation for the large penetration depth of the water jet. That snapping shrimp can reach with their claw-induced flow. Within such a cavitation process, an axial reentrant jet is generated in the hollow cylindrical core of the cavitated vortex that pushes the front further downstream and whose length can exceed the initial jet penetration depth by several times.
PMCID: PMC3828329  PMID: 24244273
5.  3D Flow in the Venom Channel of a Spitting Cobra: Do the Ridges in the Fangs Act as Fluid Guide Vanes? 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e61548.
The spitting cobra Naja pallida can eject its venom towards an offender from a distance of up to two meters. The aim of this study was to understand the mechanisms responsible for the relatively large distance covered by the venom jet although the venom channel is only of micro-scale. Therefore, we analysed factors that influence secondary flow and pressure drop in the venom channel, which include the physical-chemical properties of venom liquid and the morphology of the venom channel. The cobra venom showed shear-reducing properties and the venom channel had paired ridges that span from the last third of the channel to its distal end, terminating laterally and in close proximity to the discharge orifice. To analyze the functional significance of these ridges we generated a numerical and an experimental model of the venom channel. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and Particle-Image Velocimetry (PIV) revealed that the paired interior ridges shape the flow structure upstream of the sharp 90° bend at the distal end. The occurrence of secondary flow structures resembling Dean-type vortical structures in the venom channel can be observed, which induce additional pressure loss. Comparing a venom channel featuring ridges with an identical channel featuring no ridges, one can observe a reduction of pressure loss of about 30%. Therefore it is concluded that the function of the ridges is similar to guide vanes used by engineers to reduce pressure loss in curved flow channels.
PMCID: PMC3645995  PMID: 23671569
6.  Cognitive Abilities in Malawi Cichlids (Pseudotropheus sp.): Matching-to-Sample and Image/Mirror-Image Discriminations 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e57363.
The ability to recognize and distinguish between visual stimuli is fundamental for everyday survival of many species. While diverse aspects of cognition, including complex visual discrimination tasks were previously successfully assessed in fish, it remains unknown if fish can learn a matching-to-sample concept using geometrical shapes and discriminate between images and their mirror-image counterparts. For this purpose a total of nine Malawi cichlids (Pseudotropheus sp.) were trained in two matching-to-sample (MTS) and three two-choice discrimination tasks using geometrical, two-dimensional visual stimuli. Two out of the three discrimination experiments focused on the ability to discriminate between images and their mirror-images, the last was a general discrimination test. All fish showed quick associative learning but were unable to perform successfully in a simultaneous MTS procedure within a period of 40 sessions. Three out of eight fish learned to distinguish between an image and its mirror-image when reflected vertically; however none of the fish mastered the task when the stimulus was reflected horizontally. These results suggest a better discrimination ability of vertical compared to horizontal mirror-images, an observation that is widespread in literature on mirror-image discrimination in animals. All fish performed well in the general visual discrimination task, thereby supporting previous results obtained for this species.
PMCID: PMC3577734  PMID: 23437376
7.  Determination of object position, vortex shedding frequency and flow velocity using artificial lateral line canals 
The lateral line system of fish consists of superficial neuromasts, and neuromasts embedded in lateral line canals. Lateral line neuromasts allow fish to sense both minute water motions and pressure gradients, thereby enabling them to detect predators and prey or to recognize and discriminate stationary objects while passing them. With the aid of the lateral line, fish can also sense vortices caused by an upstream object or by undulatory swimming movements of fish. We show here that artificial lateral line canals equipped with optical flow sensors can be used to detect the water motions generated by a stationary vibrating sphere, the vortices caused by an upstream cylinder or the water (air) movements caused by a passing object. The hydrodynamic information retrieved from optical flow sensors can be used to calculate bulk flow velocity and thus the size of the cylinder that shed the vortices. Even a bilateral sensor platform equipped with only one artificial lateral line canal on each side is sufficient to determine the position of an upstream cylinder.
PMCID: PMC3148032  PMID: 21977440
artificial lateral line; biomimetics; flow sensor; mechanoreception; optical sensor

Results 1-7 (7)