Page last updated at 11:46 GMT, Friday, 14 November 2008

Barnacles prove fussy home makers

Barnacles cling to the hulls of ships and rocks

The humble barnacle has emerged as one of the animal world's most picky house hunters, according to scientists.

Experts from Newcastle University found the tiny creatures to be super-fussy about where they settle down.

A team is trying to develop new paints for ship hulls. Studies showed barnacle larvae rejected both smooth surfaces and those that were too textured.

Once targeted by the creatures vessels are slowed down, costing an estimated£4.8bn annually in wasted fuel.

Scientists also discovered the creatures avoided sites that were too crowded, or lacked sufficient neighbours.

Dips and grooves

The Newcastle team created a number of potential home sites for barnacle larvae with varied surface textures similar to different grades of sandpaper.

They then watched as the young larvae, measuring less than one millimetre across, roamed the surfaces in search of the perfect spot.

Study leader Dr Gabrielle Prendergast said: "They proved to be very choosy customers.

"What we found was that it's not an easy decision for them. Like sponges and corals, barnacles stay in the same spot all their lives so it's vital for the survival of the species that when it comes to choosing a home they get it right."

The larvae preferred micro-textures that were of similar size to themselves and allowed them to "slot" in the tiny dips and grooves.

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