dolphins sonar communicating technology

29+ Animals Behind Some of Humanity’s Innovative Technology


| LAST UPDATE 11/03/2021

By Billie Delgado

From elephants to mosquitos, many animals have played a crucial role in some of the world's most cutting-edge technology. In this article, we'll dive into how exactly such creatures offered a breakthrough in the scientific community.

Mosquitoes: Surgical Needles

Most people can agree that mosquitoes are quite irritating. But, the insects were actually the inspiration for Japanese researchers at Kansai University, who developed a method to help ease future doctor checkups.

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What first intrigued researchers was the mosquito's ability to pierce skin while causing little to no pain. Further inspection found the jagged edge on the insect's mouth is what's responsible for the painless exchange. So, a new 3-pronged surgical needle, with a slight vibrating ability, was designed to replicate the sneaky bite.

Fireflies: LED Light Bulbs

Those who have ever spent a sleepless night on summer camp can definitely recall the wonderous luminescence of fireflies. But we're not so sure how many know that this distinctive characteristic has also helped transform the productivity of LED light bulbs...

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Researchers at Penn State were able to improve LED light by 90% after studying the insect's microstructures which displayed a unique asymmetry. When replicating this structure in LED lights, the functionality and distribution increased significantly, allowing for the new design to be distributed widely.

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Bats: Walking Sticks For The Blind

Ultrasonic ability sounds like a top-tier superpower, at least in our book. Apparently this distinctive bat capability is also in high favor with professors at Leeds University in England, who came up with a way to model walking sticks using their sonar technique.

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Made for the blind, the walking stick - named the "Ultracane"- vibrates as it approaches objects, thus signaling the user to proceed with caution. A handy tool for those in need, and the flying creatures who have to sense their surroundings while venturing out at night.

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Mussels: Adhesive

A delicious appetizer isn't the only thing mussels have provided. The underwater mollusks are also the inspiration behind some of the most durable adhesives on today's market. Who would have thought a water-based creature could enable such a dry material?

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LEX VAN LIESHOUT / Michal Nowak / EyeEm via Getty Images

Thanks to a breed of underwater mussels - extremely effective at attaching to hard substances in the sea - scientists were able to match their amino acid components with a new biomimetic polymer. This polymer proved 10 times more effective at adhering to surfaces, as compared with all other competitors.

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Camels: Saltwater Desalination

Ever wondered how camels stay hydrated despite living in some of the driest climates on Earth? The impressive ability is the result of a cooling technique they use to prevent from overheating, which researchers in the Sahara Dessert once modeled to develop an irrigation system for desert forest development.

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By utilizing their nostrils to constantly suck in the moist air they breathe out, camels found a way to effectively purify water. This method could conveniently be applied to desalination. It provided a new opportunity for harnessing saltwater in plant irrigation under harsh and arid conditions.

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Hummingbirds: Helicopter Technology

Aside from their dazzling appearance, hummingbirds have captivated engineers with a separate yet equally whimsical set of characteristics. The bird species has the remarkable ability to hover in place as well as fly sideways or even backwards - which are all very obvious advantages for helicopter design.

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Susan Dale / EyeEm / NurPhoto via Getty Images

After studying the wings of 12 hummingbird species, researchers from Stanford and Wageningen University discovered the key to sustained hovering was in the ratio of their wings. Engineers applied this understanding, of larger aspect ratios creating stronger and less energy-intensive function, to modern-day helicopters.

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Elephants: Bionic Arms

Ever come face to face with an elephant's trunk? The massive appendage, while composed of literally no bones, harnesses the power of 40,000 muscles. This marvel is also the perfect model in the development of bionic arms, performing life-changing services around the world.

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A German company called Festo was one of the first to base the flexibility and functionality of a new robotic arm design to that of an elephant's trunk. With applications for the handicapped, uses in heavy lifting within the agriculture industry, and potentially many more, the technological advancement seems limitless.

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Sea Otters: Wetsuits

Sea otters can be found lounging around in freezing cold bodies of water most wouldn't dare to step into. So what's their secret? Studies have found the natural fur coat of the mammals are the vital component in regulating their body temperature under such conditions.

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Cameron Rutt / Vladimir Gerdo via Getty Images

By trapping warm pockets of air in their dense coats, sea otters have enabled the ability to maintain a warm status around the clock. Using this approach, scientists at MIT have developed fur-like rubbery pelts that can be placed inside human wetsuits for enhanced warmth.

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Humpback Whales: Wind Power

What does one of the most gargantuan beings on Earth and air locomotion have in common? Turns out the flippers of humpback whales include bumps, also known as tubercles, that enable them to travel exceptionally fast. This information has proven invaluable for the advancement of modern-day wind power.

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A company called WhalePower helped reveal that tubercles create an 8% improvement in lift, 32% reduction in drag, and 40% increase in attack function for the whale species. From airplanes to fans and other wind-fueled instruments, aerodynamics has never been the same since the discovery.

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Dogs: Velcro

What if a little furry friend could invent an easier way to help us strap on our shoes? Although dogs don't have thumbs to actually tie human shoes, they were the original inspiration behind Swiss engineer Georges de Mastral's invention of velcro in 1955!

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Europa Press News / September15 via Getty Images

After taking his dog on a hunt one day and noticing that little tiny burrs stuck to the pet's hair, the inventor decided to take a further look. Under a microscope, he discovered that the burrs had "hooks" that enabled their attachability. This prompted him to combine the material with a fabric that would support their shape - nylon!

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Butterflies: Anti-Counterfeit Technology

Imagine we found a way to cheat the system and print our own money, only to be busted by one of nature's most delicate creatures: the butterfly… yes an insect! Thanks to the marvelous creatures, criminals now have a much harder time faking all forms of currency.

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A Canadian company called Nanotech Security Corp was the first to employ the structure of a Morpho butterfly's wings to create a visual image nearly impossible to counterfeit. The beauty of the security image is its ability to transfer onto virtually any surface.

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Spider Webs: Glass Windows

Ever witnessed a bird flying at high-speed straight into a closed window? The results typically aren't pretty. But luckily for these animals, scientists were able to manufacture a bird-friendly glass based off spider webs to prevent disastrous future run-ins.

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albatrossMargarethe Wichert / Monica Olteanu via Getty Images

The new invention was developed by a German company using an ultraviolet coating called ORNILUX. The material has a reflective coating practically invisible to the human eye, but looks like a spider's web - something scientists picked up on after watching spiders craft their webs.

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Albatrosses: Drones

Imagine effortlessly flying more than 600 miles a day while exerting little effort. That's the reality for one of the largest bird species on Earth -the albatross. Hoping to harness some of their marvelous flight capability, scientists began studying the birds and what exactly enabled them to soar the skies.

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Sylvain CORDIER / Yagi Studio via Getty Images

After multiple observations, researchers at MIT discovered that their fixed-wing span and reliance on wind propulsion was what allowed the albatross to fly overseas without stopping. These discoveries were then applied to drone designs in order to create a model able to fly hours on end - without ever needing to recharge!

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Codfish: Medical Antifreeze

When forced to endure severely cold winters, one tends to pick up a few tricks that keep their insides from turning into a popsicle. That's how Arctic Codfish learned to cope in their habitats - and subsequently prompted scientists to develop a similar evolutionary mechanism.

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It was discovered that codfish have a special antifreeze glycoprotein keeping their blood from solidifying in cold conditions. Researchers at Warwick University used this process to create Polyvinyl alcohol, a new polymer that mimics antifreeze. The development proved highly effective in conserving blood bags kept on ice at hospitals.

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Sharks: U.S. Navy Ships

Turns out, sharks have this special ability to impede the attachment of tiny micro-organisms to their skin - all thanks to V-shaped scales called dermal denticles. Strangely enough, the latest group to harness this capability has been the U.S. Military.

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In an effort to prevent microorganisms (like barnacles) from attaching to Navy ships, thus slowing down the vessels, engineers manufactured a coating inspired by the shark skin. The novel invention, coined Sharklet, is set to be not only useful for ships, but also medical implants as it averts the attachment of animal cells!

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Giraffes: Blood Pressure Sustainability

One might think the tallest animals on Earth have the highest risk of suffering from hypertension, due an intense stretch of circulatory real estate from their heart to brain. But as it turns out, giraffes are actually masters of maintaining blood pressure sustainability thanks to their unique compression system.

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Scientists have found that inflexible collagen fibers and a complex system of valves are the main attributes preventing a giraffe's blood from pooling. The same condition can result in serious risks for humans like venous leg ulcers. The findings were used to develop a blood compression therapy system beneficial in the medical world.

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Cats: Cat Hair Brush

Wouldn't it be nice if we could be the solution to all our own problems? Cat's seem to have the upper hand on this one as they were the inspiration for their own allergenic predicament! It's true: cats inspired the development of the very brushes we use to pamper them.

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After inspecting the felines, scientists noticed they had tiny spines - called papillae - on their curved tongues, something effective at removing hair. Using the finding as a design model, inventors created the Tongue Inspired Grooming (TIGR) brush as a way to effectively tame loose hairs on the fluff balls!

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Woodpeckers: Black Boxes

When an animal can bang its head against a tree trunk at 18 to 22 times per second but not suffer intense brain damage, a whole lot of intrigue develops. Likewise, scientists were very eager to figure out what allowed these creatures to be so resilient to such blunt trauma.

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After researchers at UC Berkeley conducted CT scans on woodpeckers, it was revealed the spongy cerebrospinal fluid contained in their beaks protects them from shock damage. The researchers then applied the same technique to airplane flight recorders - known as black boxes - to preserve data in transit when shaken or pressured.

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Cicadas: Antibacterial

In various regions of the world, the sound of a cicada alone is enough to send some people running. But scientists have actually found themselves drawn to the bugs due to their antimicrobial capabilities and subsequent potential for global health needs.

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Turns out, the veined wings of Clanger Cicadas have nanoscale pillars equipped to destroy bacteria upon contact. This is a huge discovery, as it's known as the first natural biomaterial to serve this function. Safe to say, this has also proven to be extremely useful for the general public.

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Peregrine Falcon: B-2 Bomber

Birds have always served as inspiration for many of humanity's airplane blueprints. But the Peregrine Falcon, in particular, played a key role in the development of militarized weaponry such as the B-2 Bomber. It's no surprise that both are capable of instantaneous destruction.

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The falcons' sleek profile and aerodynamic lines make them extremely efficient flyers - especially from a mathematical standpoint. With an ability to minimize wind resistance and maximize flow by contouring its wings to its body, the stealthy bird can reach diving speeds of over 200mph.

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Geckos: Military Climbing

Ever wanted to scale buildings like Spiderman? Thanks to Geckos and their sticky toes, this reality might not be too far away! After discovering minuscule elastic hairs on the feet of the reptiles, scientists noticed there was significant upgrade potential for modern-day technology. 

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Inspired by the reptilians, researchers were able to create hand-sized silicone suction pads with tiny ridges that are capable of adhering to slick surfaces. The U.S Military has been big fans of the discovery, using it to create a material that enables humans to ascend vertical glass walls.

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Arapaima Fish: Body Armor

Living in piranha-infested waters calls for evolutionary survival. But for the arapaima - a species of fish native to Brazil - this is actually a breeze. How? They've naturally developed hard protective scales that flex and twist to absorb the impact of predators around them.

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Researchers have mimicked the trait by creating a body armor fit to withstand even the toughest attacks. But the species have also helped improve the structures of airplanes and designs for fully protective suits. Next time we feel endangered in our environment, we know who to look to for inspiration!

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Spiders and Ants: Unsinkable Metal

Could a structure be so water repellent that it becomes impossible to sink? Scientists at the University of Rochester seem to think so: after observing the buoyancy of diving bell spiders and the rafts of fire ants, an ability to produce propellant air bubbles has suggested exactly that.

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By replicating the insects' superhydrophobic capability to trap air bubbles, the researchers found the metal structures being tested kept floating. This influenced a breakthrough that could lead to the development of unsinkable ships and indestructible floatation devices.

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Termites: Ventilation

Wouldn't it be neat if our homes could be designed to remain cool despite scorching temperatures outside? Well this unique skill is exactly what scientists discovered termites have harnessed, allowing the insects to withstand even the world's hottest temperatures.

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By observing the tiny creatures, scientists have gained ideas to create more effective ventilation systems. One of their main techniques modeled is the use of large insulated central chimneys surrounded by buttresses that efficiently increase air circulation and ultimately conserve energy - all while keeping cool air within.

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Kingfishers: Trains

Kingfishers perfectly exemplify how natural design can help mitigate human problems, also known as biomimicry. It was when Japanese engineers were searching for a way to minimize the noise of their bullet trains, that they found the solution was right in front of them the whole time.

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While birdwatching, one engineer noticed a particular species, the kingfisher, could dive into the water without creating much commotion. He thought to replicate the bird's structure, an elongated pointy face, on a bullet train in the hopes of resolving the noise. The design worked - also saving the machinery 10-15% more energy.

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Deer: Durable Material

Many of us grew up watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But the wild animal can actually be credited for a lot more than getting us into the holiday spirit. According to researchers at the Queen Mary University of London, deer antlers hold the potential to change manual labor forever.

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How? As Dr. Paolino De Falco explained, "The fibrils that make up the antler are staggered rather than in line with each other." As a result, impact from any potential clashes is significantly minimized. Scientists have since mimicked their fiber makeup to produce more damage-resistant material in the workforce.

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Wasps: Space Exploration

Wasps might be unwanted in our day-to-day life, but when it comes to laying their eggs? Scientists have welcomed the drilling it calls for with open arms. For years, the science behind their horntail drill has remained a mystery: how do the insects manage to drill into trees, all while exerting minimal force?

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Sure enough, astronomers at the University of Bath have solved the puzzle. Not only do they credit the enigma to a meticulous method - calling for a zipper-like reinforcement - but they'd like to apply that same science in Space. How? By designing a special saw using the same approach in order to dig through Mars' stubborn surface.

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Lobsters: X-Ray Machines

"X" might mark the spot, but nothing holds up quite like X-Ray vision. For years now, scientists have been amazed by lobsters' ability to deploy the rare trait, all while 300 feet underwater. What makes it so great? Unlike the human eye, such vision requires no need for interpretations of refracted images.

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Instead, lobsters can see direct reflections - focused to a specific point, before making up a complete image. Researchers have learned to mimic the animals' remarkable trait to help create new machines. Dubbed the "Lobster Eye X-ray Imaging Device" (LEXID), such devices replicate the crustacean's optical nerve.

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Toucans: Car Paneling

From their colorful hues to their playful nature, these tropical creatures attract endless visitors to South/Central America's rain forests each year. But it's their bills that have left scientists amazed: the bird's bill is as dense as a Styrofoam cup. And yet, it can fend off vicious predators and chew through the toughest shells.

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How? Marc Meyers, a professor of engineering at the University of California at San Diego, has been wondering that same question for years now. Sure enough, after finally crediting the marvel to a tiny network of scaffolds and membranes, he hopes to create more efficient car panels using the same makeup.

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Dolphins: Ocean Navigation

Dolphins might just be one of the world's most adored creatures. And perhaps with good reason. Not only are they friendly in nature, but they've also offered a breakthrough in the scientific community. "It occurred to me that... they have a better sonar system [than us]," professor of ultrasonics Timothy Leighton explained.

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"I sat down and worked out what pulse I would use if I were a dolphin," Leighton revealed. Sure enough, after studying the mammals' mysterious echolocation method, the researcher helped change the way we navigate our waters. Today, scientists have managed to create a new kind of sonar - all thanks to our marine friends.

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