Thistle burrs, DVDs and submarines

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I read recently about a species of Mantis shrimp found off the coast of Australia that can see in 12 colors. The article, found at www.aquaticcommunity.com/news, explains how the complex vision system of the shrimp is contributing to the development of better DVD players and other technology.

A solid and widespread understanding of the relationship between technology and nature is vital to protecting and conserving the fish, forests and wildlife of Missouri. Though many view technology as a barrier or offense to nature, it can also be viewed as a compliment. After all, imitation is the highest form of compliment. When nature is mimicked by technology it's called "Biomimicry."

A great number of luxuries that make our modern lives comfortable were inspired by nature. The leaf inspired solar panels, fish bladders inspired the invention of submarine ballasts that keep our Navy's underwater fleet submerged. It's no coincidence that the suction cups that hold up your shower shelf eerily remind you of an octopus. Long before our time, Native Americans saw an obvious use for Alligator Gar when they used the scales as spear points.

Sometimes I wonder why I haven't been inspired to get practical with nature, like the Swiss engineer George de Mestral. He invented Velcro after removing thistle burrs from his pants and the fur of his dog. He put them under his microscope and decided to replicate the hooks that he saw on the burrs. Since 1940, the world has benefited from those annoying burrs and Mestral's practical inspiration.

So often we disregard what might seem like a tiny portion of our natural world simply because it annoys us. However, without a natural template, technology might not even be a word in our dictionary.

Programs like the Alligator Gar stocking program at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, the Share the Harvest campaign, and the MDC's Discover Nature effort are not only in place for conservation and promotion of specific species or recreational activities. They're a direct effort to conserve the fish, forests and wildlife that continue to inspire technologies across the world.

Although we can't all be engineers like Mestral or the Mantis Shrimp scientists, we can take some lessons from them and exercise simple ways to insert experiences with nature into practicality for our modern lives.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

* Use your deer harvest this year to make an impact on someone's life through the Share the Harvest campaign.

* Save some dollars at the grocery store and collect persimmons. Use them to make jam, dried snacks and persimmon pie. Just go to missouriconservation.org for recipes.

* Make homemade holiday decorations using natural items from your backyard. Branches can be woven into wreaths; pinecones and leaves look beautiful in a clear glass bowl or vase.

Perhaps the most practical thing you can do is make time to get outside with your children and discuss how leaves pull in energy from the sun, or why thistle burrs stick to your pants. Who knows, you or your children could take a native Missouri species and make a new luxury to benefit generations to come.

Candice Davis is the Media Specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation's Southeast and Ozark regions. Read more from her on her blog "Discover Nature" on semissourian.com.

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