Home Animals Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
Animals By Joe Burgett -

Well, well, well, it seems like animals have been quite the useful creatures to us humans, hasn’t it? From providing us with food and clothing, to inspiring our very own shelters and communication methods, we’ve sure learned a lot from these furry and scaly friends. But it doesn’t stop there. We’ve even taken cues from their venom and specific skins to make weapons, medication, and even some snazzy technology through biomimicry. In essence, we’re studying nature’s playbook to solve our own problems. So next time you’re enjoying the fruits of our animal friends’ labor, take a moment to thank them for all the inspiration they’ve given us.

***Before we start the list, it’s important that we at Science Sensei do not support using sentient animals for scientific testing, nor do we support harming them for scientific means in any form. This list will contain some concepts humans have used that will involve these types of things, so be aware of that before reading.***

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via David Hoffman Photography/Shutterstock.com]

Humpback Whales & Wind Turbines

You might be surprised to learn that humpback whales and wind turbines have a similar concept in mind. They both are very keen on reducing drag. This is a resistant force caused by the motion of something through a substance, which in this case would be water or air. Whales grow quite large, especially Humpbacks, yet in spite of being the size of an average school bus, they can do spirals underwater. This is all due to the design of their fins. The fins are lines with small bumps (tubercles) that allow them to reduce drag. West Chester University learned of this and replicated tubercles onto the blades of wind turbines. Studies found a 32% reduction in drag, doubling the performance of the turbines!

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Jay Pierstorff/Shutterstock.com]

Gila Monsters & Diabetes Medication

Gila Monsters are amazing creatures, and rank among the top animals that inspired scientists to do something amazing. We mostly know them for being one of only two lizard species that produce venom. When studying their venom in the mid-1990s, Endocrinologist Dr. John Eng from the Solomon A. Berson Research Laboratory found that Gila monsters create an incredible hormone. The creatures can stop tissues in their gut, glands, & pancreas from being active in order to save energy. Yet they use the hormone that Dr. Eng calls Exendin-4 to start them back up again. This venom assists humans in doing the same, literally increasing the production of insulin when blood sugar is high. The FDA approved the drug Byetta Injection in 2005 (which uses Exendin-4) and now thousands of diabetics are alive today because of it!

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Bonnie Taylor Barry/Shutterstock.com]

Birds & Optical Materials

We’ve known for years that birds have incredible vision. This is likely why they have been among the animals that inspired scientists in the optometry community. One that has been particularly useful to science is the male Eastern Bluebird. The feather colors for the species are not created by pigments but rather by nanostructures that self-assemble similar to beer foam. They work similarly to materials that undergo phase separation. This is when different substances become unstable & separate. Color-producing structures start out as bubbles of water inside living cells but are then replaced by air as features grow. These same optical structures, appearing like sponges with air bubbles under microscopes, are making new optical materials in labs today.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via The Guardian]

Butterflies & Colored E-Reader Displays

Butterflies are pretty cool and have been among the animals that inspired scientists, especially those at the company Qualcomm. They are a big manufacturer of processors and chip components for smartphones & tablets. The company is responsible for creating the first full-color, video-friendly e-reader prototype. Qualcomm built their concept for this on the iridescence of butterfly wings and adapted it into their tech. The Mirasol display, as Qualcomm calls it, uses reflective displays, like butterflies, that can be easily seen even under bright lighting. Mirasol does not even need backlighting to do this, which results in less energy usage and longer battery life. Today, we’ve built on this technology for thinner cell phones, gaming devices, and digital cameras!

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via BBC]

Leeches & Medical Practices

Leeches have been used for literally thousands of years in medical practices. It is safe to say that they are among the animals that inspired scientists in the medical field, but it was not always for positive reasons. Leeches were used by ancient physicians for the process of bloodletting, as there was an assumption that “bad blood” was ultimately the thing that harmed the body. While bloodletting is actually medically necessary even today sometimes, we rarely use leeches for this anymore. Scientists realized bloodletting was not really necessary, nor the use of leeches, after a while. Therefore, while they were quite useful for the time and were a safe way to let out blood without allowing people to bleed to death…they are not as useful today.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Karel Stipek/Shutterstock.com]

Termites & Air Conditioning

When you think about air conditioning, you probably don’t think about “termites.” However, we’d argue you should. Years ago, Zimbabwe was experiencing record-level temperature highs. Around this time, Mick Pearce was being brought in to design a building. He was asked to address the heat issue, which resulted in the largest commercial building in Zimbabwe with a natural cooling system. After noticing termite mounds, Pearce mimicked the insect structure since termite mounds have natural ventilation through a complex system of air pockets. What is essentially a chimney on top of the mounts circulates hot air while cool air stays at the bottom. When he used this system for the building, it worked wonders. Now the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe only uses roughly 10% as much energy as a normal AC system.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Dmitrii Erekhinskii/Shutterstock.com]

Lobster Eyes & X-Rays

Did you ever think X-ray machines and lobsters had any connection? Lobsters are certainly among the animals that inspired scientists to do something incredible. It’s actually true that lobsters have amazing eyes and have what one would classify as “x-ray vision.” They have to in order to see in such murky waters they live in. Unlike human eyes, lobsters see direct reflections that can be focused on a single point. Everything is then gathered to form an image. This same trick could be used for X-ray machines and now we have the Lobster Eye X-Ray Imaging Detector or LEXID as a handheld flashlight. It can actually see through 3-inch thick steel walls!! The flashlight shoots a small stream of low-power X-rays through an object and a few then bounce back off whatever is on the other side. Homeland Security loves these things.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Pazargic Liviu/Shutterstock.com]

Sheep & Space Travel

Long before even the first airplane was invented by the Wright Brothers, people wanted to know if humans could potentially withstand high altitudes. This led to an experiment in 1783, where an unmanned hot air balloon took off into the sky with only a group of animals. A duck (used to high altitudes), a rooster (flightless bird), and finally a sheep were all added to this balloon ride. This is where one sheep named Montauciel became one of the animals that inspired scientists. The idea of this experiment was that if a normal land animal like a sheep could handle these high altitudes, so could humans. Thankfully, the sheep came back perfectly fine. Which inspired scientists for decades to come regarding the idea of flying or going into space. Without this sheep, where might we be today?

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Alexey Masliy/Shutterstock.com]

Sponges & Solar Cells

While people may not consider them to be true animals, sponges are among the animals that inspired scientists to do something incredible. Molecular Biochemist & Professor, Daniel Morse, along with his colleagues discovered something amazing about the orange puffball sponge. They actually release enzymes into the water, pull out the silicon & calcium, and then will rearrange those chemicals into specific shapes. In 2006, Morse and his team tried to replicate this using electrodes to make clean and efficient solar technology. Thanks to this sponge, we can now make solar cells and overall solar energy at a much cheaper cost compared to the price it cost beforehand.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Université de Bourgogne]

Parasitic Worms & Skin Grafts

You wouldn’t think we’d end up talking about scientists using parasitic worms to do something incredible, but they actually have done this. The Pomphorhynchus laevis is a spiny-headed worm that likes to attach itself to the intestines of its host. When doing so, it inflates its cactus-like head inside tissue so it can latch onto it properly. We’ve found that this can be great for skin grafts, which are transplants used to treat wounds or burns. The worms work as an adhesive for the skin graft, as the worms give off a patch of tiny needles whose tips swell up when exposed to water. This, in turn, keeps the grafts in place and is 3x stronger than surgical stables!

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Stefan Rotter/Shutterstock.com]

Wasps & Drills/Saws

The horntail wasp is kind of odd with its two giant, whip-like needles on its hindquarters. These are not stingers, but rather, drill bits. They can be as long as the wasp’s entire body and allow them to drill into trees where they deposit their young. Biologists have been fascinated by them for years because they do not work like traditional drills and can drill from any angle without much effort, with so little body weight. Scientists eventually realized that the two needles work their way into the wood, pushing off and then reinforcing the other…sort of like a zipper. University of Bath Astronomers realized drills like this can come in handy in space, due to the lack of gravity. That means a lack of pressure to drill into something. This led to the design of a saw with extra blades that work just like the wasp’s needles.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Karel Bartik/Shutterstock.com]

Sharks & Preventing Bacteria On Products

While Sharks are pretty amazing, you’d be surprised to learn that they are among the animals that inspired scientists to do something incredible. One issue the United States Navy’s ships & submarines dealt with was “fouling.” This is the accumulation of unwanted material on solid surfaces such as barnacles and algae for ships. This can reduce the efficiency of ships and other things. However, Dr. Anthony Brennan was brought in to fix this issue and he found that sharks were the only marine animal that does not foul. The skin of sharks is comprised of denticles that overlap in a diamond shape repeating pattern, which stops bacteria from growing. Brennan and his team realized they could replicate this to prevent bacteria on not just ships but numerous products. This led to the “Sharklet” tech being used on countless products.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Jordan Grinnell/Shutterstock.com]

Dolly The Sheep & Cloning

While it might be odd to think that a sheep was among the animals that inspired scientists more than once to do something incredible, it’s true. Technically, a sheep was used to offer future inspiration. In July 1996, a fuzzy little sheep came from the belly of one of her three mothers. She was the first mammal cloned from an adult cell. Dolly’s birth proved that somatic cell nuclear transfer could work. This is the process by which a cell nucleus from an adult cell is transferred into an unfertilized eff, blasted with electricity, then implanted into a surrogate. While Dolly passed away at just 6 years old, she helped to prove cloning was possible. Ever since then, we’ve cloned even larger animals from pigs to horses and bulls. We even have plans in place to try to clone a human being one day.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Breck P. Kent/Shutterstock.com]

Pygmy Rattlesnake & Antiplatelet Drugs

Pygmy Rattlesnakes possess a version of hemotoxic venom, which can spell disaster for their prey. When bitten, the venom will cause prey to bleed profusely and be unable to clot. This could end the life of small prey but also humans if we do not get help fast enough. Scientists have found that a molecule that causes this to occur in the snake’s venom can be used in the medical world. It is used for eptifibatide, an antiplatelet drug that binds to platelets in the blood for a short period of time, preventing them from sticking together. This drug can be used to treat advanced heart disease, blood clots, strokes, and help those at risk for sudden heart attacks.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via FamilyDoctor.org]

Mosquitoes & Syphilis

We’ve actually mentioned this in the past but it’s worthy of bringing up in this article on the animals that inspired scientists article. Most mosquitoes are capable of carrying malaria but the Marsh Mosquito is the most notable. There are 460 types of this mosquito on the planet but only around 100 carry malaria. Most of those tend to be in African & Asian territories. While malaria is a deadly disease, we’ve been able to control it for a while. Meanwhile, the rise of syphilis which could kill people a lot faster was hard to treat. Before antibiotics like penicillin came around, doctors had to find a way to rid someone of syphilis and they found that malaria-induced fevers could actually work. This concept was used from the 1920s to the 1950s, but many feel that inducing normal fevers would likely have done just as well as this treatment.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Big Life Foundation]

Elephants & Robotics

A lot of animals have inspired major inventions in the world of technology. However, one interested us quite a lot. There is a robotic arm that was designed to work similar to that of an elephant trunk. Created by the German engineering firm known as Festo, this relatively new biomechatronic handling system was designed to offer more flexible and pliable movement for numerous potential projects. Called the Bionic Handling Assistant, it is able to transport heavy loads smoothing, as it expands and contracts by inflating (or deflating) air sacs within each supposed vertebrae.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Craig Dingle/Shutterstock.com]

Bats & Helping The Blind

It is sort of ironic that we’ve used bats as the animals that inspired scientists to create technology for the blind. Considering bats themselves are basically blind, as their eyes are incredibly sensitive to light. Thus, they have to be in darker conditions to see properly. They actually get around using echolocation through ultrasonic echoes. This is what allows the bats to “see” around them, avoiding obstacles or possible predators. This same method was utilized in the Ultracane. Sensors are all over the cane to make it sensitive to the world around it. The cane allows blind people to sense objects higher than their own height and avoid far more possible dangers.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Giedriius/Shutterstock.com]

Deer Antlers & The Inspiration For Tough, Durable Materials

When bucks go at it during a duel in the wild, they go head-first into one another with their antlers in a violent fashion. The deer are usually fighting for superiority and while one would assume that their antlers are getting damaged during this, they are actually getting stronger. Scientists at the University of York in the UK found that during the duels, the deer antlers dry out. Usually, this would make something brittle and easily breakable. However, these deer antlers are actually 2.4 times stronger than wet bone! Engineers used this ideology when making materials and we’ve now made many durable industrial materials.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via National Audubon Society]

Bird Skulls & Stronger/Lighter Building Materials

In general, skulls are pretty impact-resistant and pretty light. Which seems kinda crazy when you realize it is supposed to protect one of the most important organs in the body. Yet this is exactly why what we get with skulls could be a major asset to structures and architectural designs. Architect Andres Harris said this, claiming that he wanted to design a highly efficient bio-inspired surface. While he is still working on this concept, he imagines how mimicking bird skulls and how they work can be useful for large pavilions and even cars. Essentially, birds are animals that inspired scientists often and Mr. Harris is among those who seem inspired by them right now.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Sang Woon/Shutterstock.com]

Kingfishers & Bullet Trains

Perhaps one of the most famous instances of animals that inspired scientists to do amazing things involves the bullet train. When bullet trains would go through tunnels and come out on the other side, they’d move so fast that coming out would result in a loud thunderclap sound, but it was often confused for gunshots. One genius engineer named Eiji Nakatsu, who happened to be a bird lover, realized this issue could be resolved by looking at the beak of a Kingfisher. The nose of the trains was designed improperly, creating a wall of wind. This wind made the loud thunderclap sound trains produced coming out of tunnels. Thus, by redesigning the nose of the train to be similar to Kingfisher beaks, the wind would no longer build up and trains even saved 20% more fuel too!

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via The Hill]

Brazilian Arrowhead Vipers & Medicine

The Brazilian Arrowhead Viper is a dangerous snake, yet also happens to be one of the most important to scientists due to its venom. During tests on its venom, scientists found a molecule they called the “bradykinin” potentiating factor from the venom and found that it was related to a class of molecules that stop angiotensin-converting enzymes from blocking bradykinin. Of course, bradykinins are proteins that cause blood vessels to dilate and lower blood pressure. In the wild, it would be useful for a snake to have venom like this as it could slow down the animal. In our case, this venom helped to develop one of the first ACE inhibitors, which treats hypertension and congestive heart failure.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Syed F Abbas/Shutterstock.com]

Blister Beetles & Viral Skin Infections

Folk medicine isn’t always known for getting stuff right. However, a lot of the things we still utilize today in some form trace back to folk medicinal ideology. One of those concepts is the use of blister beetles. They have been used for a variety of ailments over the years. One area they have been actually successful in helping is skin infections, such as the Molluscum contagiosum virus or MCV. The viral skin infection is part of the poxvirus family, and results in several bumps appearing on the body. Blister beetles can treat this quite well. On top of that, they are also quite helpful in treating warts. Apparently, it’s the cantharidin blistering toxin that seems to help so much.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Patjo/Shutterstock.com]

Sheep/Lamb & Blood Transfusions

It was June 1667 when French physician Jean-Baptiste Denys performed the first documented blood transfusion to a human. Denys was helping a 15-year-old boy who had been treated by bloodletting which caused him to suffer blood loss. To save him, Denys used sheep’s blood. The teen remarkably survived but it was by luck alone. Denys then tried “cure” a mentally ill man named Antoine Mauroy as Denys & his colleagues felt replacing his “bad blood” with “good blood” would help him. Keep in mind, during this time doctors were still ignorant about many things, including mental health. Sadly, Mauroy died mostly because humans struggle to handle even other human blood, let alone blood from animals. However, he did survive the first & even second transfusions. He’d technically die truly by arsenic poisoning from surgeons.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[image via Ian Fletcher/Shutterstock.com]

Spiders & Flexible Tape/Homes/And More

If there is one species that should be among the animals that inspired scientists to do something great, spiders deserve to be near the top of the list. Spider silk we’ve found to be incredibly strong, up to 5 times stronger than steel by weight. Silk is stretchy, but also lightweight, making it possible to use in many places. One area is in a medical tape that can be peeled off of a wound without damaging the tissue underneath. It can be used to attach tubes or sensors to newborns too, just showing how useful the tape can be. Spider Webbing/Silk has also been proven to be great as a potential material for homes due to how strong it is and even how it stacks up against the elements.

Animals That Inspired Scientists To Do Incredible Things
[Image via Andanatb/Shutterstock.com]

Maggot Therapy & Wound Treatment

While you might not think that maggots could be among the animals that inspired scientists, they have been pretty critical. Maggot Therapy has been used for thousands of years in some form. We know that Native Americans, even the Mayans, utilized it to help clean wounds. Maggots were a major asset during the American Civil War as well as both World War I & World War II. In fact, in 2004 the American FDA cleared maggots from the common green bottle fly as a “medicinal device.” Used for treating things such as various types of ulcers, and non-healing traumatic post-surgical wounds. Basically, maggots are inserted into non-healing skin or soft-tissue wounds to clean out necrotic (or dead) tissue within the wound. They also essentially help to disinfect the area, resulting in far fewer amputations or long-term issues.


Where Do We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA)

United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)

National Institutes of Health

United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

University of Illinois

University of Edinburgh

Yale University

University of California – Berkeley

University of Bath

Penn State University

University of York

University of California – San Diego

West Chester University

Smithsonian Magazine