This might come as a surprise to some, but humans don’t own the market when it comes to innovation. In fact, long before humans created the wheel or discovered fire, animals and nature were hard at work in their outdoor laboratories, coming up with ways to adapt and thrive in their given environments.
The results can be seen today. Everywhere you look, animals and plant life look and behave certain ways because of centuries of innovation. Here are four examples of some of nature’s most impressive innovators.
The kingfisher bird feeds mainly on fish, which it catches by diving into the water. In order to catch its prey, the kingfisher had to get creative with its tiny body stature. For starters, its eyes are specially adapted to enable it to see prey under water.
However, to improve its depth of diving (while maintaining a stealthy existence) the kingfisher had to do something with its beak. What it did – over likely thousands of years – is come up with a wedge-shaped beak that allows for a splashless entry.
In fact, this beak-design is so remarkable, that Japan’s bullet train has a nosecone designed to look like the kingfisher’s beak, so that when these trains emerged from tunnels, they wouldn’t create a loud clap due to wind resistance.
Centripetal spirals (also known as Fibonacci spirals) are seen all over manmade inventions and technology. But this type of spiral is also found all over nature, from calla lilies to shells, tornadoes and more. In fact, all movement in the universe, right on down to the atomic level, moves in this common geometry. It may look like a simple and elegant design, but it’s phenomenally complex.
These centripetal spirals help to maximize liquid flow while minimizing energy and effort. So, for example, the shape of the calla lily helps this flower get the amount of water it needs, even during minimal rainfalls.
One thing technology and nature have in common is that producing bright, beautiful, colors requires a lot of energy.
That can be problematic for an animal that also flies (as flight also takes a tremendous amount of energy). That’s the problem the butterfly faces. Butterflies possess some of the most striking color displays in nature. Its coloring can serve as camouflage, mate attraction, as well as a warning signal. But being able to produce that color on their own – while mustering up enough energy to take flight – was a near impossibility.
That’s where innovation took over. What evolution came up with was a way not to use pigment, but structural color. The wings of a Morpho butterfly, for example, are made up of shingled plates, whose shape and distance from one another are placed in a precise pattern that disrupts reflective light wavelengths. This disruption produces a brilliant blue. To create the same blue out of pigment would require much more energy – energy better used for flight, feeding and reproducing.
This same principle has been used in cutting-edge display technologies to make brighter, low-powered displays in mobile devices.
The Namibian Beetle raises its back into the air as fog rolls into the desert in which it lives. Bumps on the beetle’s shell catches water droplets, which then run down its back and into its mouth.
Finding water in such an inhospitable environment is quite the feat, which is why people took notice. As a result, inventors used this remarkable occurrence to create the Dew Bank Bottle. Morning dew condenses on the bottle, and conveys it to a bottle, which has a drinking spout.
While humans are innovative beings, many of our inventions are inspired by nature. Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that emulates nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies. For decades, scientists and innovators have looked to nature for the answer to some of mankind’s most prevalent questions.
As we continue on our quest to creating concepts and products that change the world, we’d benefit from remembering that sometimes the answers we search for are right in front of our noses, the result of thousands of years of trial and error.