Scientists are close to discovering a way of preventing barnacles from growing on the hulls of ships.
Barnacles cling to the hulls of ships and rocks
The ability of barnacles to form clusters on ship hulls and rocks has long been a puzzle to marine experts.
Now a group led by scientists from Newcastle University say they are close to finding a way of "fooling" the creatures into settling elsewhere.
The Anglo-Japanese team have identified a chemical signal used by barnacle larvae when they cluster together.
The discovery could suggest new, environmentally sensitive ways of protecting surfaces from the unwanted growth of barnacles.
Professor Anthony Clare, of Newcastle University's School of Marine Science and Technology, said: "We have determined the nature of a chemical signal that allows barnacles to recognise their own kind when they settle.
"As adults, barnacles stick firmly to rocks, ships and other submerged objects in the sea. As planktonic larvae, barnacles disperse widely to colonise new habitats and surfaces.
"Having identified the type of protein involved, the team now hope to determine how the signal is recognised."