Are northerners more cold “adapted”?

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Are northerners more cold “adapted”?

-with Kaylee Faltys, Curator

One of my best friends is a native of Mexico, but has lived in Iowa/Nebraska most of her young adult life. She swears that her body cannot handle the cold of a Midwest winter and regularly flocks to Mexico when the temperatures start to drop. She swears the cold makes her sick and I call her out on it every year. It’s all in her head, I tell her. The human body is the human body, same species, same biology, no matter where your ethnicity originates. But is it? Are people who live the northern latitudes scientifically different to colder temps or do they just get “use” to the cold?RS3198_D-TVM-SNOW-36B-natgeo-lprHumans are mammals. Mammals are warm-blooded meaning our body’s need to regulate a certain constant core temperature in order to survive. To regulate the body’s temperature we have to burn energy like a furnace: this is called thermogenesis. Thermogenesis increases after a large meal or when exposed to cold temperatures. Our body’s respond by interpreting two signals: internal body temp, and temp on the surface of the skin. A body responses to coldness by shivering the muscles and is not affect by inter-individual differences. No matter an individuals specific genetic make-up, the body will respond to the cold similarly, by constricting surface blood vessels (in response to skin temp) and shivering (in response to internal temp). But many factors, besides thermogenesis, can affect how we feel the level of coldness.

There is a popular belief that people with more body fat and higher BMI’s stay warmer in the cold. While this may be partially true due to the fact that extra subcutaneous fat helps insulate the core body temperature, it’s not always the case. Remember the other signal a body pays attention to is the temperature on the skin? Typically people with higher BMI’s have more relative surface area translating into more cooled skin from decreased blood flow in blood vessels to prevent heat loss. Another factor to consider is an individual’s muscle mass. Muscle have more blood flow and require more energy to maintain than does fat.  Human cardiovascular system, artworkA person with more muscle mass will naturally have a higher rate of metabolism (burning energy) and more blood flow could increase the amount of heat the body produces. There is also the age-old notion that women are always colder than men. Well, that is true. The combination of lower muscle mass and higher surface area in women provides them with a scientific excuse to being cold. Regardless of fat, muscle, or gender a body is, being cold really boils down to body size and surface to volume ratio. A good example is the polar bear: they have large, compact bodies with relatively small surface areas from which they can lose their internally produced heat.

Biology out of the way, what about cultural differences? Are people who grew up and live in colder climates more “adapted” to the cold? Can they withstand the cold better than a southern implant? No race of people have been selectively bred to survive conditions that others could not. But cultural groups make different types of adaptations to account for their regional climate. If a person has grown up in a colder climate, chances are they have learned how to escape the cold by either clothing, buildings, heating, and/or food intake. Same with people growing up in southern climates- but they’ve learned to live in heat and/or humidity. This means every single person has preconceived notions of why they like the hot, cold, sunny, rainy, windy, etc. environments. Everyone has their preferences.

And as for the cold making one sick, that is false. The cold weather does not cause people to get sick- that’s an old wive’s tale. The cold does increase the chance of certain factors that may make it easier to catch a cold. As outdoor temperatures drop, people may spend more time inside around people increasing the chances of catching the cold virus. The drier air of winter creates a lower humidity that helps the virus survive longer while airborne. So the actual temperature is not what makes people sick, it’s the potential environments people find themselves in during the colder months.

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Reynaud’s Syndrome attack

The best way to stay healthy in the cold months is to actually go outside (or inside) to exercise and maintain a healthy, whole foods diet. There are also other factors that play into coldness for certain individuals. Some people have thyroid issues or Reynaud’s syndrome which biologically does make a body react to cold much differently and makes the cold much colder.

So are northerners more adapted to the cold? Biologically speaking- no. Culturally speaking- probably. There’s not definitive answer to this question. It really depends on an individuals personal preference and preconceived notions of weather.

-kf

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Lab grown meat: Would you eat it?

CaveLOGOLab grown meat: Would you eat it?

-with Kaylee Faltys, Curator

As a vegan, I enjoy keeping up on the latest developments in food science and its production and sustainability. The food and agriculture industry in America is a whole beast in itself. A whole world of politics, laws, and health that is constantly changing. Technologies have advanced us from horse and plow to satellite-controlled combines. This also means that almost two billion of acres of land in America (~83% of all US land) is used for agriculture, and raising animals for food contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined. These current agriculture methods are not environmentally sustainable by any means (photo below shows what it takes to produce just one hamburger patty).

 

Since a vegan lifestyle eliminates all animal products (including meat, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy products, eggs, or other animal by-products) from ones diet, it slashes the typical person’s carbon footprint by well over half and significantly reduces water consumption. BUT, only in my dreams would the whole world live a vegan lifestyle to save the earth. But what if there was an alternative and sustainable “real” meat source…grown in a lab?

The epitome of agriculture is to produce more food with fewer resources. Growing grain for livestock and growing livestock themselves is resource intensive no matter how far humans take technology. We need more alternatives. There will never be just one answer. Eating a plant-based diet would work…if every single person on earth partakes, which will likely never happen. But it is a great option. We need more options. If people continue to eat meat, there must be a more sustainable way to go about it. Scientists have come up with an option that has a real potential: meat grown in a lab. Cellular agriculture has produced a few prototypes for providing meat-eaters with an alternative that lightens the carbon footprint of meat production. So how does it work?foodprint5

Still in the research and development phase, cultured meat starts with small biopsy of skeletal muscle (the meat people eat today) that is cultured (aka: grown) in a lab. The cells from the biopsy do what cells do best given the right conditions: undergo cell division, divide at exponential rates, and growth as it would on an animal’s body. Large vats (industrial bioreactors), much like those used for brewing beer, are hoped to be used to grow the cell cultures which can be harvested in about one months time. But, as with all living things, those cells still need energy to grow. And this is where it gets tricky. (Again, this is a brand new science and is still in the early phases of development.) The most common method at this point to feed the cell cultures a serum made from the blood of calf fetuses called fetal bovine serum (FBS). But the holy grail of all cultured meat companies is to develop an affordable, slaughter-free alternative to the FBS. One company, Memphis Meats, has already validated one process for just that and is in the trial stages of testing it. But it’s a secret recipe!

As with all foods, environmental impacts are inevitable. Environmental impact study results for mass-produced cultured meat thus far have been inconclusive. Some have found that it is substantially lower that the impact of conventional meat production according to this UK study. Another study has found that large-scale production of cultured meat would use less land, but not less energy.

 

The point is that people are coming up with alternatives. As with all new developing products the early stages are expensive and honestly…the process is hard to watch. Think about the first personal computer. It was huge, slow, expensive, and not user-friendly. Look how far computers have come in the past 40 years from the MITS Altair 8800 to a 3-pound MacBook Air. Right now, cultured meat is the 40 year old Altair 8800. And at the current rate of development, it wouldn’t surprise me if cultured meat is commonly available in supermarkets within 10 years. It’s not a meat alternative, it’s not vegan or vegetarian, it’s the exact same meat people eat right now, but without such a detriment to the environment…and not to mention it’d be an end to mass animal slaughtering.

–kf

Visiting a few polar bears.

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Visiting a few polar bears.

-with Kaylee Faltys, Curator

Last week I forged though some wicked snowy roads to take a trip to Sparta, WI. Sparta is a town just shy of 10,000 people located over three hours south of Cable. Sparta just isn’t any old town though, it’s a town with two polar bears! The Cable Natural History Museum’s polar bears in fact. The Museum was donated these large mammals years ago along with many other incredible and exotic animal mounts- most of which were sold or donated since they would not have fit the Museum’s mission of focusing on Northwoods species. Except the polar bears, we kept those and here is why.

Polar bears are one of the most common faces of climate change. They are a large mammal with a “cute and cuddly” face so people like them and they are faced with declining populations due to critical habitat loss. Their ice habitat in the poles is rapidly decreasing at a faster-than-average pace due to a recent increase of anthropological climate change. This makes the easily recognizable polar bear a great tool for environmental outreach and education. The Museum decided to utilize these rare specimens for just that.

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A little cleaning before encasement.

Our two polar bears in Sparta are put to use through the Sparta High School Sustainability Club. One bear is located in the high school library and the other is about to be permanently encased and is en route to an office with special UV filters on the windows to prevent UV radiation damage. During my visit I was able to accession the bears into the Museum’s cataloging system (not sure why they weren’t already?), made sure they are being treating properly, and I cleaned the standing one before it got a permanent case installed over it. During my visit, I got to talk with the Coordinator of the Sustainability Club, Mr. Cook. I was amazed at all the incredible ideas they have put into practice. Not only do they have multiple school groups a year come though to see the bear and learn about sustainability, but they are the only high school in the country with a food digester. Let me explain….

When Mr. Cook proudly told me about the school’s Ecovim Digester the Sustainability Club had purchased and put into use, I was confused. I didn’t understand what he meant. So he took me into the busy cafeteria during lunchtime and showed me.  I was amazed. The Sustainability Club noticed how much money the high school was spending on garbage removal. Astronomical amounts. So they did a little study. What they found was that 55% of the waste was food. Solution: use the uneaten food as a resource, not a waste.

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Students at Sparta High putting food into the digester.

The Sustainability Club raised money, sought out donations, and convinced the Board that this was a great idea. Not only would the high school save tons of money on waste management, but the earth was benefiting as well. So what do they do with this digester?

As each student is ready to “dump” their tray of uneaten food and waste, they go through this assembly line type set-up. There are three receptacles for the waste: recyclables, trash, and food. Each is self-explanatory as to it’s final destination, but the food waste goes to a special place- the industrial-grade, steel food digester. This massive machine gets fed all the food waste from the day and converts it to a coffee-ground like substance over each night. The food grounds are then packaged up the next morning by the awesome custodian and sold to fertilizer/compost companies for re-purposing. They are the only high school in the US to do this and it all stemmed from the minds of the Sustainability Club’s members. It’s reassuring to see this generation of kids so environmentally conscious and actively doing something about it. The whole high school works as a team to make this happen. Every kid in that school is aware of climate change and is making a difference every single day, which they can also take home with them. Nothing short of amazing.

2017.61.01_9The polar bears at Sparta High are only the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) with regards to their efforts to reduce their impact toward climate change. They teach, they do, they inspire. They set the bar high. Needless to say, the polar bears are just the face of the real action happening. The best part of this trip for me wasn’t see the polar bears, it was seeing how they use the bears to start a domino effect of change and action for saving this planet.

–kf

 

Get that child to be wild.

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Get that child to be wild.

-with Kaylee Faltys, Curator

Kids are growing up much much different these days. Now I understand that I have only seen the tip of the iceberg because I’m still quite young, but even in my seven years of adulthood I’ve noticed dramatic differences in the way children are growing up. I can’t even imagine the differences from my grandparents point of view. Every generation grows up a little different, that is inevitable. But with the ever accessible technology these days, kids are exposed to the “screen life” much earlier than previous generations. We’ve all seen that 8 year old walking around with a smart phone. I assume most readers here are my age or older and grew up without such an abundance of screens and a prevalent cyber world. So how do we get children interested in the outdoors and science? The answer: role models.child-997231_1280

Like all people, I have contemplated my past and upbringing and how that translates to who I am today. Nature versus nurture. Both are equally important and the nurture side relies on our role models. I am lucky to have such great role models growing up. My brother and I spent our childhood summers running around outside barefoot from what seemed like sunrise to sundown every day. We spent so much time outside, Mom had to ring a loud dinner bell to signal us to come home for dinner. We had Nebraska quality “forested areas” to play in, corn fields, a cemetery, a kid-built tree house, a huge, diverse yard to explore, and our imaginations. Why did we spend so much time outside? Because we had great role models. Grandpa was constantly working outside. Dad always played baseball, basketball, wrestling, or helped us fix things outside after his long day of hard work. Mom took us on hikes, we built snowman’s and leaf piles with her. Whenever we had a question, she’d tell us to go look it up and find the answer on our own- to explore our own minds and world. We had a great dog to play with too. We went on family hikes or to the river after dinner. We simply spent time outside, constantly. Dad had lots of outdoor hobbies and activities that he never forced on us. He just simply did them because he enjoyed them and you know what happened? I followed suite.

I saw how much joy and happiness he got out of doing those activities and he set a good example by simply living his life. That is the type of things kids pick up on. Not people shoving information and educational “tools” down their throats, that’s overwhelming and not fun. Kids observe, absorb, and are highly pliable while young. They are exposed to so many things and will pick up on what their role models are doing. If Mom or Dad were constantly on their smartphones (which didn’t exist at the time), then that’s what I would have thought was normal, so that’s what I would have picked up on. If my brother and I were being annoying or needed to be entertained, Mom didn’t hand us a iPad or phone, she kicked us out the door and said, “Go play.”! My role models were active, telling us to play outside, introducing us the world just by working outside. Our imaginations took it from there. tree-2254979_1280My interest in the outdoors stemmed from my childhood, from my parents lifestyles, from just being outside with them. Not from screens, not from educational toys, not from information overload, but from experiences. Real experiences that I then turned into personal fascination and study.

So how we engage children of today’s world? By taking it back to the basics and letting them run wild. Trust in yourself that you raised them to make good decisions when left to their own devices. They will fail and  they will get hurt, but that’s part of the necessary learning experience. Screens are not engaging, they are mind numbing. Be an example. Do things outside consistently. Invite them along. If they want to be involved, they will come. They may or may not become intrigued. Kids love being with and around their parents and grandparents, they will learn from you – good or bad. Limit the mind-numbing screen time, use toys that evoke imagination (like Legos, blocks, or drawing), and just have fun outside!

–kf

Sealed off from the world.

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Sealed off from the world.

-with Kaylee Faltys, Curator

The Collections Room is something to be seen but not touched. Why is that? The Museum’s beloved specimens are behind locked doors not just to prevent them from escaping, but to protect them. Museum specimens are meant to last as long as possible. My job as Curator is to ensure that there is no unnecessary damage to a specimen and that the rate of decomposition remains as slow as possible. The specimens are dead but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t still have predators. collections-room.jpg

A natural history museum specimen was once a living organism turned into an object for display or preserved scientific research (assume I will be talking about animals and not rock/mineral specimens for this article). Living animals are composed of organic molecules. Organic materials break down over time no matter the circumstances. This is called aging or decomposition. Many factors can enhance the rate of decomposition such as temperature, relative humidity, UV radiation, pests, and foreign organic substances. Those are the predators of museum specimens and the Curator serves as the specimen’s knight in shining armor.

The sealed doors on our Collections Room serve as a barrier to maintain a specialized atmosphere for housing of the specimens. That room has it’s own regulated climate and relative humidity settings with no exposure to UV radiation. Fluctuations in these “agents of deterioration” will cause the organic molecules and tissue of the specimens to become damaged and deteriorated over time. The door to the Collections Room is fitted with a weather strip on the bottom to prevent pests, such as insects, from entering the room. Pest infestations can become a nightmare as they will destroy entire mounts and collections.

fox and weasel

The reason the public is not allowed into the Collections Room is because more traffic though these doors increases the risk of exposure to these damaging agents. Increased traffic also increases the risk of direct physical forces and foreign organic substances, such as the oils from wondering hands. When a specimen is exposed to un-gloved hands, oils from the skin contaminate the fur or skin of the mount and can also break/pull of hairs off a specimen. Extra people also means extra movement. One wrong turn can easily knock a mount off the shelf.  This could spell disaster for both the mount and the person. Some of the specimens are old that they are preserved with carcinogenics, such as arsenic, that are not safe for human interaction without proper protection.

The locked doors of the Collections Room protect the specimens from people and “predators” as well as to protect the people from the specimens. Luckily, the Museum has wonderful glass doors allowing eyes to peer and minds to wander about the sealed world of natural history. But… I hear rumors that the animals come to life under the cloak of night? Leads me to wonder how much those doors really can contain…

–kf

Human population predicament.

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Human population predicament.

-with Kaylee Faltys, Curator

*Edit from last weeks installment: Some early readers may have noticed I said the Earth is 7 billion years old, not 4.5 billion like it should be. Thanks to those who alerted me right away so I could change it. I mixed my numbers up with thinking about the 7 billion people on this planet. Which a great segue to this weeks post: Just how many is too many?

One thing I will never forget from the ecology class I took in college is the rabbit and fox population model. A population equilibrium system. Fox prey upon rabbits. When an area has an abundance of rabbits there will be an abundance of fox. As the fox start to eat more rabbits, the fox population increases and the rabbit population declines. The rabbits decline, the fox follow suite. As the fox decline, the rabbit population increases. With more prey available, the fox population also increases….and so on. It’s an oscillating cycle.

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Predator/prey cycle (math.umd.edu)

As of today, there are roughly 7.4 billion people on Earth. In the year 1900 the population was at 1.6 billion. By 2100, the population is estimated to reach 11 billion humans. Overpopulation is often a word used to describe this recent human growth. Overpopulation could be detrimental to the human species. Obviously the Earth is not going to become larger. There have already been five mass extinctions throughout Earth’s history and what’s not to say this won’t be the sixth? But can we single out human population as the sole cause of a future collapse of our own species? Are we driving ourselves to extinction just like the rabbit and fox? Not necessarily.

The Earth can support all life, but not all lifestyles. The problem we face with human population is not the number of people, but the number of consumers and the scale of consumption. The Earth couldn’t care less about how many humans there are. Maybe we are too smart for our own good.

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Human population (agatelady.blogspot.com)

We have created an intricate global system that put value in consumable materials. The effects of increased population are going to depend where the growth occurs. If it’s in low and middle income urban areas, like predicted, where consumerism is historically low, then impact may be more predictable. For example, in 2007, India gained 17 million people (average household: 4.9 people) and United States gained three million (average household: 2.6 people). India’s growth resulted in an additional 6.6 million tons of oil consumed and the U.S.’s growth accounted for an additional 25.6 million tons of consumed oil. This reinforces the notion that countries with the highest emissions per capita are from countries with smaller family size, on average. If population growth occurs in these countries, or the the lower income countries start consuming more…we may have quite the issue on our hands.

Consumerism aside, could Earth support 11 billion people by the end of the century? I think the Earth has enough resources to sustain a natural population, but people will have to change entire societal norms and lifestyles. Maybe humans are just another species to come and go on this planet, just like the dinosaurs.

Maybe humans can persist for millions of years. If that’s the case, there probably won’t be as many humans inhabiting Earth but they will have had to of found a sustainable lifestyle. Think of it as a population bottleneck. We have a bottle full of marbles (aka: people) right now but something is going to tip the bottle over and only a few marbles will make it through the bottle’s neck to survive. Right now, we have exponential population growth, a full bottle of marbles. Eventually, something will have to give, tip that bottle over, and dramatically reduce the population size. Whether the tipping be due to water issues, widespread disease, lack of resources, or war, it won’t matter because there won’t be 11 billion people to fight over what is left. That’s just one of a million hypothetical scenarios. But if humans do persist, how do 11 billion people live comfortably on this planet?

If the high emission countries lived a more sustainable lifestyle- there is potential. But this would require the unthinkable: changing the social norm and material expectations. Humans would need to rethink and change their diet, lifestyle, transportation, land use,  workforce goals, and the entire social system would have to dramatically shift.

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Lifestyle/diet carbon footprint comparisons. (shrinkthatfootprint.com)

And it needs to happen yesterday. The reality is…global change to that degree probably will not happen anytime soon. No matter how much each individual person reduces their carbon footprint, coal is still being burned, fossil fuels are still emitted, resources continue to be gobbled up, water is disregarded as important, and energy will continue to flow though the world. Sure, reducing your individual footprint helps a little and sets a great example for others, but one person can’t solve the problem- it’s a global team effort.

Maybe humans are just in an oscillating cycle like the fox and the rabbits and right now we’re in an upswing and the environment is in the downswing. Will that ever flip? Maybe humans are feeding into our own extinction, ignoring the inevitable. It’s a combination of so many factors yet to be acknowledged and seriously talked about.

–KF

 

Streamlined by nature.

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Streamlined by nature

with Kaylee Faltys, Curator

Efficiency. There’s not much that’s more satisfying than completing a task with efficiency. Homo sapiens have been around for about 200,000 years- a mere fraction of the four and a half billion years Earth has been around, yet somehow humans have found incredible methods of efficiency in just about every technology. It’s almost like humans have had millions of years of evolution to figure this stuff out! Or have we?

B2 Bomber

A B-2 Stealth Bomber’s uncanny resemblance to a bird of prey. (Photo: TheAvationist.com)

Aren’t planes and bullet trains a lot like birds, which have had over 60 million years to evolve and become successfully efficient? What about the similarities of submarines and boats to fish with over 540 million years of evolution? Or velcro….seems quite like a pesky burdock burr doesn’t it?! Turbine blades highly resemble whale fins. Some adhesives are created based upon characteristics of gecko feet. Bullet proof vests are designed to be strong after a spider web. Intricate infrastructure like power grids are mimicking bee colony communication. See a pattern? Our world is streamlined by nature at almost every level.

Evolution is a never-ending process of genetic trial and error, or in nature’s case, life and death. Survival of the fittest is really a matter of efficiency. Here’s an example: by a random, single, genetic mutation, a particular bird’s wings aren’t long enough so it can’t fly efficiently and wastes so much energy on trying to fly, it eventually dies. And that’s a good thing. If the bird wasn’t able to fly efficiently enough to live then there’s no reason for the bird to have reproduced to pass down those inefficient traits. That birds’ sibling on the other hand, had no genetic mutation and thus longer wings so it was successful at flight and reproduction. The successful bird’s efficient traits were passed on to the next generation- thus evolution.

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Physics of flight on a wing (Photo: ospreytaleteller.com)

The process of evolution takes hundreds of millions of years. Species evolve into other species and so on. What will our species (Homo sapien) be in another 200,000 years? We will never know. But we have used our specially evolved brain power to copy millions of years worth of evolution from other species and use it for our shortcomings. Humans can’t fly on our own. We can’t swim or run efficiently (relative to practically every animal in existence). We can’t survive in a raw and natural state of being in many environments. We really don’t have a lot going for us, but one thing we do have is high adaptability and intelligence. We have the ability to create what we need to solve our “problems” of no flight, limited speed, shelter, food resources.brain-2845862_960_720

Humans have modeled useful inventions after adaptations of other species. Or maybe humans and the other species alike have found the ways physics works best and it’s all just a coincident? Either way, the other species figured it out first and human inventions mimic them. Aircrafts are by no means the most efficient transportation device created by humans (bicycles actually are), but compared to walking 1,000 miles, aircrafts allow us to move 1,000 miles in two and a half hours versus 322 hours it would take to walk that distance. Aircrafts are designed to reduce the force of drag to untimely save energy and flight more efficiently. Birds have evolved to reduce drag and save energy during flight. Humans have modeled aircrafts upon 60 million years of evolution in just over 100 years. It is simply amazing how one design based upon a bird has changed the way the modern world connects and interacts. But the innovations from nature don’t stop there, they seem to be endless!

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Humpback whale tubercles bio mimicry on a fan. Photo (www.bloomberg.com)

Ever notice the bumpy ridges (tubercles) on the front of humpback whales fins? Those are not on accident. Those bumps improve performance and maneuverability by reducing drag, increasing lift, and increasing speed during directional changes, according to recent research. This type of extra control by the tubercles can be utilized on the leading edges of windmill vanes, industrial fan blades, aircraft wings, and watercrafts. The amount of human creation based upon different species adaptations and evolution is an extensive list. Would humans be were we are today if it weren’t for nature’s inspiration? Maybe understanding physics alone, without external species adaptations influencing design, would have landed us in the same place we are now, but we will never know. As we understand more in-depth characteristics about animal adaptations,  human advancements will continue to become even more streamlined by nature.

–KF