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teaching through trade books

Go Ahead—Mimic Me: How Plants and Animals Inspire Inventions and Design

Science and Children—July/August 2023 (Volume 60, Issue 6)

By Christine Anne Royce

There is a statement that one often hears about art imitating life or vice versa. In this column, students focus on how shapes from nature or characteristics of animals and plants are imitated and adapted by humans to solve problems or design objects. The idea of biomimicry is investigated first by observation and discussion and then by having students apply their understanding.

This Month’s Trade Books

cover: Biomimicry

Biomimicry: When Nature Inspires Amazing Inventions

By Seraphine Menu and Emmanuelle Walker

ISBN: 9781644210185

Seven Stories Press

78 pages

Grades K–4


Illustrations and explanations help describe how nature has inspired humans to create different objects inspired by nature, ranging from clothes to buildings. Broken down into six different categories, the text allows the reader to make connections between what was discovered and observed in nature and how humans used those features and shapes for inspiration.

cover: mimic makers

Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature

By Kristen Nordstrom

Illustrated by Paul Boston

ISBN: 978-1-58089-947-5


44 pages

Grades 2–5


Ten different inventors from around the world are introduced to the reader along with their inventions. This book looks at how each invention impacts humans today and then introduces the inventor and how the inventor was inspired by nature to arrive at the unique aspect of the invention.

Grades K–2: Nature Inspires Humans

Purpose: Students will make observations about how the shape and/or structures of different natural objects influence human-made objects.


  • Biomimicry: When Nature Inspires Amazing Inventions
  • Plastic toy geckos or lizards
  • A variety of different types of sticky (adhesive) tapes
  • Coffee stirrers
  • Pointed toothpicks
  • Dense Styrofoam
  • Online Resources: videos of polar bear dens, igloos, spider webs, and Munich stadium
  • Supplemental Resources ( What was the thinking? The Idea Came From, Stuck to You


Before you share the book, engage students in thinking about how some things are similar and some things are different. Display the pictures (see Supplemental Resources) that pair two objectives together and pose the question: So how do you think the natural object and the humanmade object are similar? How are they different? If you had to think about how the natural object “does something” (i.e., burrs stick to an animal’s fur), what about the humanmade object is similar? As students discuss these ideas, help them in their thinking by prompting them with the idea that was the influence for the human object.

After students have had a chance to discuss the objects, read aloud pages 20–23 from Biomimicry: When Nature Inspires Amazing Inventions and then engage the students in a discussion regarding why inventors and scientists will sometimes consider objects in nature when they design objects that humans need. Questions to generate student thinking include: Why do you think scientists/inventors might look at an object like those used in the pictures and think, “Hey, that might work for…?” Why do you think that natural objects are considered when looking for a solution to a problem?


After discussing or creating an initial idea for these young students that the structure of different objects in nature has a specific purpose and that the shape and purpose of these objects can influence human-made objects and inventions, they will be asked to dive into additional ideas shared in the book in more detail. There are two different sets of pictures that will be used from the book. The first looks at objects and how the potential shape of something influenced a decision or invention, and the second considers what specific characteristic helped influence an actual invention.

In the following stations, discuss the shape of the object and how the shape influenced the design of something new.

On page 62, read the narrative to the students about the Olympic Stadium in Munich, Germany, and share the websites about the stadium (see Online Resources). Ask students to look at these images and describe why people say it looks like a spider web. As you are engaging the students in this discussion, ask them to also look at the pictures of spider webs as well and to point out similarities between the stadium roof and the spider webs. Teacher notes: There is a great deal of physics and materials science related to these structures, which is beyond the level that students should know. For this level, students are making observations about the similarities and differences between the objects and also thinking about why an object might be considered.

Share page 59 with the students, which discusses how the Inuit people designed their igloos based on the shape of a polar bear’s den. Using just the picture in the book at first, point out the polar bear den illustration to include the entrance type tunnel and then the igloos that are in the corner of the illustration. What initial similarities do the children see between the shapes? What purpose would both polar bears and Inuits need from their individual structures? Following the discussion, share actual photos of igloos and polar bear dens with students and ask them to make more observations about the similarities and differences. Do they think that the location with the snow that both groups lived in helped to influence the design?

For the second set, the images selected are paired with accompanying materials. On pages 36–37, point out to the students the pictures of geckos. When scientists started to study geckos, they were trying to determine why they were able to defy gravity and climb walls. What they found were structures on their feet that had adhesive properties. Provide the students with a variety of different types of tapes cut into 3-inch segments and a series of plastic geckos or lizards. Ask the students to place the plastic lizards on the tape so that they stick and then hold the tape vertically in the air as if the gecko was climbing a wall. Holding it still, time how long it would take before the gecko falls off. Ask the students to order the stickiness of the different adhesives. Allow the students to make observations on the student sheet Stuck to You (see Supplemental Materials).

After reading pages 48–49 to the students, conduct a demonstration that will help the students think about the shape of a mosquito’s proboscis and a needle. Using a plastic coffee stirrer (to represent a cylindrical shape), push it down into a piece of dense Styrofoam at several points. Ask the students to consider what the stirrer and the Styrofoam represent (needle and skin) and then ask them to make observations of where the coffee stirrer went into the Styrofoam and describe the point where it entered the Styrofoam. Repeat this process with a pointed toothpick. Using the observations that the students made, which do they think took more effort to get into the Styrofoam? Which one created a bigger point of entry? If they had to think about one being duller and one being sharper, which one do they think would be less painful if you needed to get a shot?


Once the students have had a chance to observe and discuss how natural objects influence inventions or humanmade objects, return to pages 20–23 and ask the students what are some examples of how a natural object was used to make or improve a humanmade object? Using the examples from both the engage and explore sections of the lesson, have the students explain the following:

  • What were some of the “problems” that humans wanted to solve in the biomimicry examples you learned about?
  • If you think back to one of the original ideas about the burrs, some people say they “hitchhike” on an animal’s fur. What are some of the characteristics that help these stick to an animal’s fur? What characteristics does Velcro have that makes it similar to the burrs?
  • Which of the examples that we looked at help to solve a problem? Which of the examples were when a natural object influenced the shape of a human made object?
  • How do scientists and inventors gather information about natural objects or organisms to try and solve a human problem?
  • What do you think of when you hear bio? (life) When you hear the word mimic, what do you think it means? (copy). What do you think the term biomimicry means?


Return to the book and share the statement on page 32, which states “Nature has proved to be an inexhaustible source of inspiration to scientists. It has served as the springboard for countless technical innovations and the basis of so many ingenious ideas.” Placing this in the appropriate language for this age level, it should be nature has given us many ideas to help scientists create new things. Using just the idea of how an animal’s shape or features might provide ideas for solving a problem humans have, ask the students to pick one of the following and provide a sketch of how humans adapted that idea to solve a problem:

  • A turtle shell
  • A bird wing
  • A butterfly mouth (proboscis)
  • A water bird’s (webbed) feet

Students can utilize their The Idea Came From student data sheet (see Supplemental Resources) to explain their thinking.


Throughout this lesson, students are asked to consider and explain how something from the natural world influenced an idea or solved a problem in the human world. The examples provided ask students to make observations about the connections. Students finally select a natural object and think about how this was or could be adapted.

Grades 3–5: Inspired Inventions

Purpose: Students compare/contrast the characteristics of natural objects and human-made objects to find ways that the former inspired the latter.


  • Materials: Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature, chart paper
  • Online Resources: Science Copies Nature ’s Secrets – Biomimicry
  • Supplemental Resources ( Inspired Inventions student sheet


Read pages 4–5 from Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature to the students and ask them to discuss the questions that are posed in the opening, which include “How does a kingfisher dive into the water without a splash?” “Why are a whale’s flippers bumpy?” “Why do maple seeds twirl when they fall?” and “How does a gecko walk on walls?” Let the students discuss their ideas which can be recorded on chart paper. At this point wide-reaching ideas are fine. Then show the students the video Science Copies Nature’s Secrets - Biomimicry of the following inventions and the natural objects that influenced them (see Online Resources) from the beginning of the video through the 2:11 time stamp. Using this as an introduction to help focus the students and facilitate a brief class discussion, allowing students to share their thoughts and ideas on why nature can be a great source of inspiration for solving human problems. Can they name any other natural objects that immediately come to mind that influenced human objects?


Share the following pages from the text and the following short videos with the students and engage them in the discussion question that connects to it. After the text and/or video, ask them to discuss with their groups or as a whole class to discuss how each use of something from the natural world helped to solve a human problem. Students can record their discussions on their Inspired Inventions student sheet (see Supplemental Resources). Help students focus on the questions on their sheets by stopping between segments. Specifically, the following inventions begin at the time stamps given.

Topic #1: Share the video segment about helicopters and dragonflies (2:27–3:29) with the students first. Ask them to make a list that explains what features helicopters and dragonflies have in common. Dragonflies are not the only inspiration for a winged flying machine. Share pages 30-33 with the students. This focuses on the seeds of maple trees which are called samaras (the helicopter things). Ask students to describe the difference between how a maple seed and a dragonfly move through the air.

Topic #2: Bullet trains and the kingfisher bird. Read pages 6–9 with the students and discuss what the problem was when the train (Shinkansen) traveled through a tunnel. What problem were the engineers trying to solve by redesigning the shape of the train’s nose? What observation helped the inventors suggest the shape for the nose of the train? Now share the video segment about the bullet train from the video (5:03–6:20). While the engineers were looking to reduce the noise caused by the shape of the train, what other benefits did the engineers find by changing the shape?

Topic #3: Geckskin and geckos. Read pages 34–37 about sticky fabric. (There is no video for this topic.) What were some of the movements or actions that these scientists observed about a gecko? What were some of the questions that the scientists had about the gecko?

Topic #4: In this part, share the video segment, Natural Inspirations (7:09–9:21) with the class before reading pages 14–22 with them. The examples from the videos focus on how different structures on animals have helped to inform scientists.  In addition to the inventors shown in the video, the pages focus on two ways that animals inspired inventions that are not specified in the videos. Have them discuss the items that were mentioned in the video and the book. Ask the students to make observations about what structure or part of the animal was used as an inspiration and what problem that solved.  Create a table that allows the students to see the connection between the two.


Once students have had a chance to investigate and discuss the connection between objects, ask them to answer the following questions:

  • What are some examples where scientists used something in nature to solve a problem or design something needed in the human world?
  • The bullet train nose has a shape from the kingfisher’s beak, helicopter blades are fashioned after dragonfly wings, etc. Each of these are structures that a particular organism has—how do these and other structures help the different organisms survive?
  • What were some of the ways that scientists or engineers realized that there was a possible answer in nature?


Divide the students into groups and provide each with a particular topic from Table 1 and share with them the video from WIRED that accompanies the topic (see Online Resources).

Once groups watch the short video about biomimicry, allow them to use additional resources to learn more about how scientists were influenced by natural objects and used the inspiration to develop the human-made object. Continuing to use their Inspired Inventions sheet, have the students create a side-by-side comparison of the two objects and then present them to their classmates in an Inspired Invention Info Session.


Much of this lesson is asking students to first make observations of natural objects and human objects and then connect the observations to how the natural object was an inspiration for the human made object. Students are then asked to look at objects and identify the similarities between the two and explain what also needed to be changed for humans to use the design.

Natural Object

Human Made Object

Video Topic (URLs in Online Resources)

Humpback Whale

Wind Turbine

What Can a Humpback Whale Teach a Wind Turbine?

Shark Skin

Fighting Bacteria

Using Shark Skin to Fight Against Bacteria

Sticky Seeds


How a Dog Inspired Velcro and a Bat Inspired Radar



How a Dog Inspired Velcro and a Bat Inspired Radar


Water Collection

Can Namib Desert Beetles Help Us Solve Our Drought Problems?

Moth Eyes

Camera Lens

How Moth Eyes Inspired the Camera Lens

Termite Hills

Apartment Buildings

What Termites Can Teach Architects About Skyscraper Design

Online Resources

Munich Stadium #1:

Munich Stadium #2:

Spider Web 1:

Spider Web 2:

Polar Bear in Den1:

Polar Bear In Den 2:

Polar Bear Den (Inside Looking Out):

Igloo Shape #1:

Igloo Shape #2:

What Can a Humpback Whale Teach a Wind Turbine?:

Using Shark Skin to Fight Against Bacteria:

How a Dog Inspired Velcro and a Bat Inspired Radar:

Can Namib Desert Beetles Help Us Solve Our Drought Problems?

How Moth Eyes Inspired the Camera Lens:

What Termites Can Teach Architects About Skyscraper Design:

Additional Texts

Ansberry, K. 2020. Nature did it first: Engineering through biomimicry. Nevada City, CA: Dawn Publications.

Clendenan, M., and K.R. Woolcock. 2021. Design like nature: Biomimicry for a healthy planet. Victoria, BC: Orca Book Publishers.

Christine Anne Royce ( is a professor at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, and past president of NSTA.

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