Tough as Snails

Design in Nature

by John UpChurch on January 1, 2013; last featured November 29, 2020
Featured in Answers Magazine

The lowly sea snail, of all things, has a unique way of manufacturing armor from soft ingredients. Researchers are just beginning to grasp this high-tech process.

When industry needs strong building materials, it often relies on metals because of their durability, or certain hard minerals. But God equipped one of the simplest—and slowest—of creatures with a surprisingly robust armor that combines two brittle ingredients. Scientists are only beginning to understand and replicate this new way to create “composite” materials that could lead to new and better products.

Even something as insignificant as the sea snail (or abalone) proves the claims of Scripture.

Even something as insignificant as the sea snail (or abalone) proves the claims of Scripture, that the Creator made all kinds of living things during Creation Week to display His magnificent handiwork. As Psalm 104:24–25 says, “O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions—this great and wide sea, in which are innumerable teeming things, living things both small and great.”

At first glance, an abalone shell doesn’t seem so impressive. The ear-shaped armor of this tasty gastropod consists mainly of calcium carbonate. That’s the same compound as Tums tablets, which hardly qualify as a hardy building material. But the secret of the sea snail is in what else God added—and how He put them together.

In the abalone shell, calcium carbonate “tiles” are stacked up in Christmas-tree-like cones. Between the cones are flexible organic bridges that span the gaps. When something—say the greedy jaws of a hungry fish—tries to crunch down on the shell, the organic bridges readily absorb the force. To work, the interlocking mineral bridges must be built to a level of precision that declares the genius of our Creator.

Other tricks are packed into these tiny shields. The snail shells also contain a composite of two different types of calcium carbonate in an outer and inner layer. These two layers together increase the durability far beyond what each layer could do on its own.

Recently, researchers in Zurich, Switzerland, discovered one way to mimic the process that manufactures the “snail-strength” bridges. It requires magnetic “nanoparticles” that pull the components into a precise, 3-D structure, much like a small magnet pulls metal filings into the shape of the magnetic field. Although God designed the snails to perform their feat in an even more complex way, it inspired scientists to develop similar, convenient ways to produce exquisite 3-D structures.1

Someday, this nanoparticle procedure may yield a whole new range of inventions, such as incredibly strong and lightweight body armor for soldiers and police.

John UpChurch is a regular contributor to the Answers in Genesis website. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Tennessee with a BA in English.

Answers Magazine

January – March 2013

Learn about our culture's newest tactics in the battle for kids' souls, and discover what you can do in your home and church to reclaim our youth for Jesus, the Creator. In addition to this special section of three articles, you'll find all the creation content you expect from Answers magazine, including a look at Lucy, the famous ape; animals with "sixth senses"; ancient and modern reefs; and intriguing findings about the animal kinds on Noah's Ark.

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  1. Randal Erb, “New Family of Composite Structures,” ETH Life website, January 12, 2012.


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