Learning from nature’s creativity
If you don’t have a proper solution for a problem, it sometimes helps to look to others who have. When it comes to more efficient technology – copying from nature has proven a surprisingly rewarding strategy.
The most prominent example is the “lotus effect” that helps to keep windows clean, for example. But in fact, there a many others: Joins us on a trip into the world of nature’s creativity, which is a direct result of the huge diversity of life out there.
The boxfish (Ostracion cubicus) for example acted as a model for car company Mercedes and has – despite its clumsy appearance – better aerodynamic properties than a “Porsche” sports car.
Not convinced? Consider this example: Ants have inspired, both, British telecoms company BT to improve their network as well traffic psychologists and mathematicians who study ant trail dynamics to make human traffic guidance more efficient and avoid traffic jams.
See the little hooks of this bur? Can you guess which invention it inspired? Here’s a hint: you might have it in your wardrobe or at least somewhere in your house. Yes, it’s velcro. The material was designed based on the plant’s structure (where it helped the seeds to attach to animals in order to spread)
Ever attempted to build a sand castle during your beach holidays? Chances are that, even if you thought it looks impressive – it is not nearly as well designed as termite nests which feature a very clever cooling system, that prevents the nest from overheating. Architects have taken this as a model for the Eastgate Center – a shopping and office complex in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare.
Let’s move on to technology: to colorful butterfly-wings, for example. They have been the template for the displays of consumer electronics devices including CD- or mp3-players. The wings have very good reflection properties for bright colors.
Not quite wings – but close enough: the wavelike edge of a humpback-whale’s fins has been imitated by engineers for the construction of wind turbines.
Any more ideas of how nature has inspired human inventions? Discuss with us in the comments below!
DateJanuary 4, 2014
Now this is old – The Top 5 of long-living creatures
Tuatara is not only a living fossil that is around since about 200 million years. The lizards are of great interest for evolutionary studies because they have some incredible features such as a photoreceptive eye (the “third eye”), or their ability to hear, although no external ears are present. Most interesting for this list is their lifespan – Tuatara can become upto 200 years old.
2. Bowhead whale
Reaching an age of 200 years is nothing if you are a Bowhead whale. The oldest ever discovered was said to be 211 years old. The whale can grow upto 20 meters in length and reach a weight of 75 to 100 tonnes. As it lives in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters it‘s also known as Arctic whale.
Of course there are tortoises. We all know that they can become very old. They are actually considered to be the longest living vertebrates on Earth. But there are examples that scores off all the others. Harriet, a Galápagos tortoise died of heart failure at the age of 175 years in 2006. It was on the boat with Charles Darwin during his epic voyage. But maybe there‘s another record: An Aldabra giant tortoise named Adwaita is said to be died an age of 250, also in 2006.
4. Black coral
We stay in the water for a 4th example of extremly long-living creatures. Deep down in the ocean we will find Black corals. These tree-like corals with a almost black skeleton normally occur in the tropics. Now hold your heads: In 2009 scientists released research-results on those corals. And they said that they discovered specimens of the Black coral that reached an age of around 4,265 years. One reason is that these corals grow very very slow.
5. Creosote bush
That brings us to the king of long-lasting species. It‘s a bush ring in the Mojave Desert and it has it‘s kingness written in it‘s name: King Clone, a Creosote bush ring is estimated to be 11,700 years old. That‘s like wow. Who will beat that? The battle is going on for… some other millennia.
DateJanuary 3, 2014
Nature and Culture: Diversity rules
Relax. Breathe. Feel your pulse. Is it regular? Good. Because that, of course, is why you are alive. It shouldn’t be monotonous though. That could mean you might be in trouble soon. It’s a startling discovery scientists made back in the 1990s: A heart that beats with little variability can herald anything from cardiovascular disease to cognitive problems – even heart attacks. Variation, in other words, is key for life. Love or hate that metaphor – but this idea that variation and diversity are not merely coincidental but fundamental to live is what ties nature to us humans.
Cultural diversity is shaped by biodiversity. That’s what experts say, who have started to look at this connection in greater detail over the last years:
Nature and culture converge on many levels that span values, beliefs and norms to practices, livelihoods, knowledge and languages. As a result, there exists a mutual feedback between cultural systems and the environment, with a shift in one often leading to a change in the other. [For instance,] If plants or animals are lost then the words used to describe them are often lost from a language shortly after
Ok, that gives an impression of how cultural and biological diversity are connected. But why is that diversity important? An ecosystem that is more diverse is better able to adapt to or survive massive disturbances, i.e. anything from natural disasters to fungal infestations to “human disturbance”. Or conversely, if mono cultures get hit by disasters it can be catastrophic. A single type of bug has the potential to wipe out whole crops, for instance, if they consist of plants that happen to be susceptible to the intruder. The present crisis faced by the global banana industry is a good example. So, in short: If it’s more diverse it’s more robust.
But it is just that resilience and durability of local landscapes, forests, lakes, plant and animal life that provided the stable setting in which humans could develop their culture and cultures in all their facets. Social scientists say that, similarly, this cultural diversity makes societies more robust, too:
Cultural diversity, and the knowledge, innovations and outlooks it contains increases the capacity of human systems to adapt and cope with change.
DateJanuary 2, 2014
5 smallest animals
Lists are somehow en vogue so we’ve put some together for you – like the 5 smallest animals in the world (to be completely honest, we should say “the five smallest animals – that we found pictures for”).
Hippocampus denise - the smallest seahorse
The Denise’s pygmy seahorse grows only 1.5 centimeters long and are named after the underwater-photographer Denise Nielsen-Tackett.
Brookesia micra – the smallest reptile
This chameleon – that does not have a non-scientific name (yet) – is with a maximum length of 29 millimeters the smallest known reptile. It lives only in one spot on our planet: in the North of Madagascar.
Leptotyphlops or Tetracheilostoma carlae – the smallest snake
As thin as a spaghetti noodle, you better don’t chew on it or dip it in tomato sauce… with a maximum length of 104 millimeters it won’t satisfy your hunger anyway. If you are curious about the name: It’s discoverer Blair Hedges named it after his wife Carla Ann.
Mellisuga helenae - the smallest bird
The bee hummingbird flies around mainly in Cuba – and can easily been overlooked as it is only about 6 centimeters long and quite fast: during one day it visits about 1,500 flowers.
Paedophryne amauensis – the smallest frog
The smallest vertebrate – the frog Paedophryne amauensis – was found in Papua New Guinea, where it prefers to live in the leaf litter of the ground of tropical forests.
Among the cutest smallest animals is the Pygmy Marmoset.
You spotted other cute, tiny animals? Share your examples with us in the comments below!
DateJanuary 2, 2014
The Global Ideas “Top 5″ of living fossils
1. The Horseshoe Crab
They are named after their look. The Horseshoe crab is a marine arthropod that lives in shallow ocean waters, gliding through the sandy surface. They also can be found on the shore. And Horseshoe crabs are considered to be living fossils. The oldest proven members of these crabs family were dated back to the late Ordovician period, about 450 million years ago.
2. The Ginkgo
Not only species of the sea can be living fossils. The Ginkgo tree is unique. It has no known close living relatives. The tree has it‘s origin in China and is widely used for traditional medicine and as a source of food. The first fossils have been dated back 270 million years.
3. The Purble Frog
The ancestors of the living fossil bounced around the dinosaurs legs. When it was discovered back in 2003, the researchers described the Purple frog as a “bloated doughnut with stubby legs and a pointy snout.” That‘s not exactly nice but the truth. To make things even more odd, it‘s cry reminds very much the one of a chicken. The frogs evolved about 130 million years ago.
4. The Hoatzin
Let‘s have a look at birds. This one is also a living fossil, linked closely to a fossil found in 2011 in Nambia that was dated 23 million years ago. Today‘s Hoatzin live at swamps or seas and deep in the Amazon rainforest. Although the bird is able to fly, it‘s a far more better swimmer and diver. Scientists a long time thought that they had found a close relative to the Archaeopteryx, because the hoatzin‘s young birds develop claws to climb up trees, a tool that also the Archaeopteryx used.
5. The Aardvark
Finally we take a look at the aardvark. It is a pig-sized nocturnal mammal from Africa. The name aardvark has it‘s origin in the Afrikaans language (erdvark) which can be translated as “earth pig”. But it‘s also known the “African antbear”. One of it‘s closest living relatives is the elephant shrew, another funny looking living fossil. The earliest proven relative of the aardvark have been dated to 5 million years.
DateDecember 28, 2013