Science

Biomimicry: 5 really weird animals that have inspired science and tech

Biomimicry: 5 really weird ani...
The Bombardier beetle discourages attackers by firing a noxious spray from its rear end
The Bombardier beetle discourages attackers by firing a noxious spray from its rear end
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The mantis shrimp has inspired biomimetics on several fronts
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The mantis shrimp has inspired biomimetics on several fronts
A pangolin with its distinctive keratin armor
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A pangolin with its distinctive keratin armor
The Clingfish is clingy enough to lift 150 times its own weight
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The Clingfish is clingy enough to lift 150 times its own weight
A horseshoe bat, with highly-evolved nose and ears for echo location 
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A horseshoe bat, with highly-evolved nose and ears for echo location 
The Bombardier beetle discourages attackers by firing a noxious spray from its rear end
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The Bombardier beetle discourages attackers by firing a noxious spray from its rear end

The term biomimicry will be familiar to longtime readers. Science and technology which imitates phenomena from the living natural world have featured in these pages from the beginning. Here, New Atlas takes a look at the animal kingdom (and beyond) to find some of the strangest and most highly-evolved fauna to inspire science and technology.

The mantis shrimp has inspired biomimetics on several fronts
The mantis shrimp has inspired biomimetics on several fronts

Name: Mantis shrimp
Suborder: Unipeltata (some 450 known species)
Length: Up to 40 cm (16 in) — occasionally larger
Modus operandi: Predating the hell out of worms, crabs, fish, shrimp and each other
Freaky fact: Think twice before adopting one. Mantis shrimp will very likely eat everything else in your aquarium. Larger shrimp have even been known to break the glass.
Inspiration: Mantis shrimp may be awesomely specialized hunters, but they've inspired scientists in diverse fields. Their highly evolved eyes have 16 color receptors (to our three), and mantis shrimp roll them to see polarized light — a trick that could potentially be useful for underwater robots, improving sunglasses, or perhaps even help in detecting cancer. Its literally bullet-fast dactyl club, meanwhile, could help strengthen everything from body armor to airplanes. This brutal weapon withstands massive impacts with no damage thanks to tiny shock absorbers on its surface and complex herringbone and helical structures which prevent damage.

A pangolin with its distinctive keratin armor
A pangolin with its distinctive keratin armor

Name: Pangolin
Family: Manidae (eight species)
Length: Up to a meter (40 in)
Modus operandi: Wandering around alone, at night, looking for ants.
Freaky fact: Pangolin are the only known animal with keratin scales — the same thing our finger nails are composed of.
Inspiration: Those same scales overlap a bit like the tiles on a roof, while still allowing the pangolin the flexibility to roll into a ball. It's thought that this behavior could inform protective surfaces from packaging to roofs, and has already inspired real-world products like the Pangolin backpack, which has similar overlapping surfaces (and which closes with a magnet instead of a zip). The Pangolin was also the inspiration for Golem's futuristic retractable Alpha helmet.

The Clingfish is clingy enough to lift 150 times its own weight
The Clingfish is clingy enough to lift 150 times its own weight

Name: Clingfish
Family: Gobiesocidae
Length: Most species are under 7 cm(3 in)
Modus operandi: Getting very attached to rocks, leaves, algae and even other fish.
Freaky fact: The Northern clingfish is clingy enough to lift 150 times its bodyweight.
Inspiration: It's the clingfish's highly adapted pelvic fins that grant its clinginess to even rough slippery surfaces. This is thanks to layers of minute hair-like structures which can get into otherwise inaccessible nooks. And crucially it's an ability that the clingfish can turn on and off as needed. It's hoped that our understanding of the clingfish could lead to developments in keyhole surgery, attaching soap holders to tiled walls, or even securing trackers to whales.

How bombardier beetles bomb

Name: Bombardier beetle
Family: Carabidae
Length: Under 2 cm (0.8 in)
Modus operandi: Squirting noxious spray from their rear end to ward off — or even kill — attacking insects.
Freaky fact: Even the larvae can be carnivorous.
Inspiration: The spray comes about as a result of a reaction between two compounds, hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide, stored separately in the beetle's abdomen. Though the mixture is almost at boiling point, the bombardier beetle seems to suffer no ill effects. Scientists used high-speed X-ray imaging to learn that the beetle does this by staging the reaction in pulses, allowing the chamber where the reaction occurs time to cool. It's thought this could lead to further insights into propulsion systems.

A horseshoe bat, with highly-evolved nose and ears for echo location 
A horseshoe bat, with highly-evolved nose and ears for echo location 

Name: Horseshoe bat
Genus: Rhinolophus
Length: Up to 14 cm (5.5 in)
Modus operandi: Catching insects mid-flight using echo location and supremely agile flight.
Freaky fact: Chinese horseshoe bats are thought to be the origin of the SARS outbreaks between 2002 and 2004.
Inspiration: Horseshoe bats' highly-evolved noses make them the masters of echolocation in the bat world. Their "noseleaves" allow them to make tiny variations in the frequencies they emit allowing for highly-specialized locating, including detecting the wing movements of moths. Their ears are similarly adaptable. Perhaps unsurprisingly, research into horseshoe bats could lead to improvements in sonar, potentially using similarly dynamic emitters and detectors.

3 comments
Lbrewer42
So the mainstream "science" crowd would say all these amazing mimic-worthy (and almost an infinite amount more are out there) engineering designs in nature are the result of random processes produced by the harsh reality of the natural environment. Yet we now have amazing tech etc. at our disposal and cannot create the simplest form of a viable, living creature? But have we not made new species? No. We can only manipulate extant gene pools to breed animals of our own liking and aid already existing gene combinations to become dominant ((breeds of dogs, cats, bacteria, etc.) . We cannot, even with all our amazing genetic science and tech, make a new species (winged rats, serpentine cats, unicorns etc.)? At best we cross breed within gene pools. An example is large cats... we can make Tigons and Ligers - still both large cats from artificially recombining the feline gene pool (cool though!). Some may say we will be able to create new species soon. Even if we did, look at all the hi-tech we needed in order to understand genetics. But we "KNOW" as "FACT" a bare elemental environment (where there was no intelligence) was so much more capable than modern times that we use nature's designs (oops - wrong word... random results) for our best inspirations. Pssst... modern "science" is as faith based as any other religion. Actual science needs no faith.
VincentBrennan
brewer42 if you are implying (as you never used the word) we need a God to make these things happen and evolution is not part of it. I have never understood why even though we can pretty much prove evolution (even of man) happened there is a need to say "Therefore God did not do it". On the other hand we have the groups trying to force THEIR religion down our throats swear evolution could not develop something as complex a the human beings in our many forms. Why does it HAVE to be one or the other? Why can we not look and think "Look at the amazing process God used to develop us and all around us"? Evolution does not prove God does not exist no more than creation shouting hard line "believers" have ever proven to me that God did all this in what we interpret as 7 days and 7 nights. We have to consider that virtually all the books like the Bible or the Koran are interpretations of dead languages by men with agendas. Note I do not mean that an agenda is always a bad thing. When I taught all the methods of streamlined manufacturing I made it clear to all that every human goes into every endeavor with an agenda so do not feel bad about having one or distrust a team mate for having his. My point here is that no one has ever shown me that God did or did not have a hand in evolution so for me evolution happened but I am very open to the idea that God WANTED things to evolve so that was his plan for the Earth and all of it's inhabitants. Why does it HAVE to be one or the other when there is plenty of room for BOTH things to happen?
DomainRider
We've only been dabbling with technology for a few hundred years; give us 3.5 billion years, and making new life will be passé. About the article - all creatures are equally evolved, none are more 'highly evolved' than others; some are more complex or more sophisticated than others in some ways.