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

How Seal Whiskers Track Prey Underwater

Harbor seal

Harbor seal whiskers sense the wake left by swimming prey by cancelling out signals from the seal’s own movement.  

Honey bees on honeycomb

Honeycomb Structure Is Space‑efficient and Strong

Parasitic hymenoptera

Bees and wasps build space‑efficient and strong nests using hexagonal cells.

Underwater structures emit varied colors

Protein Turns Sunlight Into Vivid Color

Mushroom anemone

Proteins made by Discosoma mushroom anemones produce color by using the sun’s energy to generate specific wavelengths of light. 

yellow sunflower in a close up photo

Sunflowers’ Fibonacci Secrets

Sunflower

The seed heads of sunflowers optimize the packing of seeds by growing florets in a spiraling pattern connected to the golden ratio and Fibonacci sequence.

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.

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:

Navigate

In addition to avoiding obstructions, a living system must navigate to find its way from one place to another to find the resources it needs to survive. This can happen over a short distance, as when a cockroach moves from a suddenly lit room to a dark crack, or a very long distance, as when a bird navigates across multiple continents. Navigating requires a signal, which can be magnetic, a landmark, stars, or other information sources. To inform direction, living systems must detect and process these signals. For example, cockroaches must detect the difference between light and dark so that they can orient themselves to the dark. In contrast, birds find their way using a combination of landmarks, magnetism, stars, and other signals, depending on the species and situation.

Function:

Protect From Microbes

In living systems, microbes play important roles, such as breaking down organic matter and maintaining personal and system health. But they also pose threats. Bacteria can be pathogens that cause diseases. Some bacteria create colonies called biofilms that can coat surfaces, reducing their effectiveness–for example, inhibiting a leaf’s ability to photosynthesize. Living systems must have strategies for protecting from microbes that cause disease or become so numerous that they create an imbalance in the system. At the same time, living systems must continue living in harmony with other microbes. Some living systems kill microbes. Others repel without killing to reduce the chances that microbes will adapt to the lethal strategy and become resistant to it. For example, some pea seedlings exude a chemical that inhibits biofilm buildup.

Function:

Prevent Structural Failure

Living systems are subject to many forces and have strategies to minimize the impact of those forces (see Protect from Physical Harm > Manage structural forces). However, when a living system is stressed beyond its ability to support a weight or load, it can fatigue, buckle, or deform. Structural failure can cause the living system to fall apart or collapse, which can ultimately result in death or reduced ability to reproduce. Living systems prevent complete structural failure using strategies that minimize damage from the specific type of force that causes the failure. For example, a tree subjected to heavy loads of wet snow must minimize the damage caused by forces like compression and tension. It does so by having a composite structure, flexible limbs, and increased support at the base of the limbs.

Living System:

Birds

Class Aves (“bird”): Eagles, hawks, sparrows, parrots

Birds are evolutionary engineering marvels. They are descended from dinosaurs, but are far from our idea of heavy, scaly reptiles. Of the specific adaptions that set them apart, most notable is flight—although some mammals can fly, birds take the prize for abundance in the skies. Many birds have hollow, lightweight skeletons and specially‑designed wings to help them stay aloft. They also have feathers made of keratin that help them stay warm, attract mates, and improve navigation and aerodynamics in flight. In contrast to their dinosaur ancestors, they lack true teeth and have replaced them with specialized beaks and bills.

Living System:

Insects

Class Insecta (“an insect”): Flies, ants, beetles, cockroaches, fleas, dragonflies

Insects are the most abundant arthropods—they make up 90% of the animals in the phylum. They’re found everywhere on earth except the deep ocean, and scientists estimate there are millions of insects not yet described. Most live on land, but many live in freshwater or saltwater marshes for part of their life cycles. Insects have three distinct body sections: a head, which has specialized mouthparts, a thorax, which has jointed legs, and an abdomen. They have well‑developed nervous and sensory systems, and are the only invertebrate that can fly, thanks to their lightweight exoskeletons and small size.

Living System:

Flowering Plants

Clade Angiosperms (“receptacle seed”): Dandelions, oaks, grasses, cacti, apples

With 416 families containing some 300,000 known species, angiosperms are the most diverse group of plants, and they can be found around the globe in a wide variety of habitats. They are characterized by seeds that grow enclosed in ovaries, which are enclosed in flowers. The floral organs then develop into fruits of myriad kinds and dimensions, from simple seed casings on maples to elaborate fleshy growths like papayas. The oldest flower known from fossils, Montsechia vidalii, appeared during the Jurassic Period 130 million years ago. They are the primary food source for herbivorous animals, which in turn makes them the indirect food source for carnivores as well.

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