by Elizabeth Trickey
Reading time: approx. 5 minutes
What would we do without velcro? There are so many things that industry has developed that make our lives easier. Some people seem to be full of great ideas! But wait, no, …. Many nifty things we use today were actually discovered just by looking closely at nature. Might be copyright infringement here!
Humans have learned so many things from our natural world that there is actually a name for it – “biomimicry”. Velcro is just one of the many inventions. The burdock plant with its hooked barbs that stuck to clothing and pet fur, was the inspiration for that.
Many of us love to swim. Snorkelling is a favourite activity for viewing colourful marine animals, and on our feet are flippers! What a great idea to move around more quickly in water. With so many aquatic animals having webbed feet, it is no surprise that humans pounced on that trait to invent swim fins. And guess who is credited with first coming up with this idea? Benjamin Franklin!
“I didn’t build it, but it is based on my design.”
Watching beavers build dams, and seeing the positive effects that come from these blockages, has taught humans many things. Beavers are one of Earth’s first engineers! These chubby little rodents turn small running creeks into large lakes. One benefit of this is that with water moving at a slower rate, there is less erosion along the banks which allows for more vegetation to take hold. Higher levels of water are helpful for farming since they alleviate droughts, and aid in building wells and irrigation ditches. Dams also filter water, making it cleaner to use and consume. And where do you think the idea for canoe paddles and boat rudders came from? Yup, beavers!
The Wright brothers researched birds in order to build their airplanes. They saw that birds were able to balance themselves on air by changing the angle of their wings. Orville and Wilbur also noted that the shape and position of bird wings was what helped them to take off and land safely. Different species of birds inspired different shapes of airplane, depending on the purpose of the aircraft.
Both bats and dolphins are known for their abilities to travel and hunt in the dark. This skill is called echolocation whereby these animals use reflected sound waves to locate objects around them. Humans have learned to mimic this technique to successfully work underwater doing mapping, finding shipwrecks, and tracking submarines.
Now this is an interesting development. As scientists search for the best type of robot to build – something fast, agile, and quick-thinking, what critter do you think they are investigating? The squirrel! They are especially interested in replicating this little rodent for help with military rescues. It can squeeze into small spaces, maneuver through debris, and best of all, it works for peanuts!
What else has contributed to biomimicry? The hairy toes of geckos has led to better medical adhesives. From termite mounds we learned how to construct buildings to allow for more air flow. The shape of wind turbine blades came from the fins of humpback whales. Car windshields tend to crack rather than shatter, thanks to research on web patterning.
Nature inspires humans in so many ways. We need to thank our wildlife friends for their positive influence in making our lives more complete. You can do that by bringing a big bag of peanuts to Procyon for our recovering squirrels!