Looking skyward through a bamboo forest

Biological Strategies

We've curated more than 1700 strategies developed by living things that achieve thousands of different functions. Whatever challenge you're looking to address, nature can serve as your model, measure, and mentor.

Featured Strategies

close up of a hummingbird while its flapping its wings on a slower shutter speed to see motion in wings

How a Hummingbird Hums

Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds produce lift and sound on both the downstroke and upstroke of their wingbeats, creating a steady musical hum instead of the pulsing whoosh of larger birds.

Tilapia

Why Fish Scales Aren’t Such a Drag

Fish

The shape of scales causes water flow to streak across fish skin, reducing turbulence and minimizing drag.

Spider ballooning from the petals of a daisy

Spiders Fly Riding Electric Currents

Spiders

Spiders travel thousands of miles through the air using their silk to ride electrostatic repulsion instead of the wind.

An otter at the water's surface

Fur Keeps Heat in and Cold Water Out

Otters

Otters and seals have a two‑layer fur system that prevents water penetration and creates an insulating layer.

Strategies Behind Recent Innovations

See the natural processes that inspired the innovations of nine finalists for the 2020 Ray of Hope Prize, presented by the Biomimicry Institute and Ray C. Anderson Foundation. This award helps biomimetic startups cross a critical threshold in becoming viable businesses by amplifying their stories and providing them with equity‑free funding.

Function:

Move in/on Liquids

Water is not only the most abundant liquid on earth, but it’s vital to life–so it’s no surprise that the majority of life has evolved to thrive on and under its surface. Moving efficiently in and on this dense and dynamic substance presents unique challenges and opportunities for living systems. As a result, they have evolved countless solutions to optimize drag, utilize surface tension, fine tune buoyancy, and take advantage of various types of currents and fluid dynamics. For example, sharks can slide through water by reducing drag due to their streamlined shape and specially shaped features on their skin.

Function:

Capture, Absorb, or Filter Energy

Many forms of energy are naturally available, including kinetic, potential, thermal, elastic, radiant, chemical, and more. All living systems require energy to carry out their many activities, and have developed strategies to use one or more energy form. To most effectively and efficiently capture energy, living systems must maximize exposure to them, using strategies appropriate to the given energy form. For example, some plants maximize their surface area available for capturing radiant energy from the sun while others have strategies to focus scattered light onto photosynthesizing areas.

Function:

Protect From Living Threats

Fungi, plants, animals, and microbes can cause physical harm to a living system. Threats include predation, herbivory, parasitism, disease, or one living system indirectly interfering with another’s ability to function. If living systems fend off or at least manage these threats, they increase their chances of survival and successfully reproducing. This requires strategies to protect from the threat in the first place, and to reduce its impact. Also, because two living systems act on each other, over time, they can adapt their strategies in response to each other. An example of how a living system protects itself from living threats can be seen in snails. A snail builds a strong shell to prevent natural predators from accessing its soft body.

Living System:

Whales and dolphins

Living System:

Cnidarians (Jellyfish, Coral)

Phylum Cnidaria (“stinging thread”): Jellyfish, coral, sea anemones, hydra

Over 99% of cnidarians live in marine ecosystems, with only 1% found in fresh water. They have two distinct body plans: medusa, which moves and is the familiar jellyfish shape, and polyp, which is stationary and the classic sea anemone shape. Members of this phyla have egg‑shaped, free‑swimming larvae, and can release capsules called cnidae. The most well‑known type of cnidae are nematocysts, which are harpoon‑like stinging cells that are the bane of many a trip to the beach.

Living System:

Ferns

Class Polypodiopsida (“many footed appearance”): Ferns, horsetails, whisk ferns

Ferns are a class of plants that reproduce without flowers or seeds, but by spores. With over 10,500 known species, ferns are the second most abundant group of vascular plants after angiosperms (flowering plants). Though they can be found in a variety of habitats, ferns prefer moist, humid environments. Ferns first evolved in the Carboniferous Period about 360 million years ago. Today, ferns are grown for food, medicine, ornamental landscaping, and hold importance in culture and folklore. Several species can also remove pollutants from the atmosphere.

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