Today we visited the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo to do a “genius of place” exercise. Genius of place is the idea that organisms in a particular environment can teach us much about the mechanisms, processes, and systems best-suited to that set of environmental conditions. For example, the Namib desert beetle has nanoscale bumps on its wings which allow it to harvest all the water it needs from morning fog. What an excellent design for water collection in dry, high temperature desert conditions!
At the Cleveland Zoo, we were all intrigued by one rainforest species – the red-eyed tree frog:
One of the fascinating aspects of these nocturnal amphibians who live in the rainforest, is there specific coloration. They have striking red eyes (their name wasn’t randomly chosen), a vibrant green body with yellow and blue stripes on their sides and orange webbed feet. It contains a third eyelid called the nictitating membrane, which allows them to shield their flashy eyes from predators while still being able to see. If all that isn’t fascinating enough, it has sticky pads on its toes by which it can hang upside down onto leafs. You can imagine what a task it is to figure out the exact mechanisms and functions at play. But if we do, it could yield spectacular applications.