Category: Northeast Ohio Events

La Plata Armadillo (Tolypeutes matacus)



Rebecca Eagle-Malone holds “Chaco” the La Plata Armadillo. Evening reception, NASA and OAI Biomimicry Summit.

Earlier this month, August 2016, I had the privilege of leading an evening reception for the NASA and OAI Biomimicry Summit in Cleveland, Ohio. (OAI = Ohio Aeronautical Institute). A group of 60 attendees gathered inside the Primates, Cats, and Aquatics Building of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo as we engaged in a discussion of Biomimicry in Your Backyard. I selected three common backyard critters to demonstrate how easy it is to find inspiration in the spaces around us every day: La Plata Armadillo, Eastern Box Turtle, and Children’s Python. This week’s blog will feature our one and only “Chaco” the La Plata Armadillo (Tolypeutes matacus).

As we’ve discussed before, biomimicry is accomplished by two possible methods: 1) Start with a question and look to nature for a solution, or 2) Start with an inspiring organism and discover what problems can be solved using that particular structure or behavior. Working in the zoo setting, I typically start with the latter. Whether I am preparing for our Biomimicry/Ecophysiology class within our Advanced Inquiry Program through Miami University of Ohio and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, answering a question from one of our educators while preparing a program, or speaking at an event for Great Lakes Biomimicry, this is the case. I am given an animal and I start my research. My starting point is generally: What makes this organism unique? It is in this uniqueness that inspiration jumps out at you! I encourage all of you to try this any time you have a moment outdoors to think. It is really amazing what a person can dream up once the trigger is pulled. We will start at this point with our armadillo inspiration.


Hairy Armadillo has a soft carapace. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian

What makes an armadillo unique? Particularly, the La Plata Armadillo?  I would play the Jeopardy music in the background, but I don’t think it will take you that long to come up with the answer: the carapace. The scutes are hard dermal bone with keratin—very similar to a tortoise shell. La Plata, also commonly called the 3-banded armadillo, has a shoulder plate and hip plate with dermal hinges to allow flexibility. This is the only species of armadillo that is able to roll into a complete ball, courtesy of a head plate and armored tail. The Hairy Armadillo (Chaetophractus vellerosus) contrastingly, has a soft outer shell.


Tolypeutes matacus is the only species that can roll into a complete ball. Photo courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

The carapace offers several advantages. Most obviously, perhaps, is protection. The La Plata Armadillo is nearly impenetrable when he rolls into a ball. The only predator that could possibly open this shell needs to have opposable thumbs. However, even with this advantage, most predators would find the benefit (food) is not worth the cost (time) it takes to open.  It also offers fortification measures by pinching the opposition in its hinges.


Another advantage of the carapace for this dweller of arid environments is thermal regulation. While all armadillos live in regions with temperatures between 92-97°F, the La Plata Armadillo can survive even hotter climates. One might think the shell would keep heat trapped inside the body, but the dermal hinges serve as climate control, allowing for air flow between the hinges.

Lastly, all armadillos have this really cool ability to travel across water. How?! They can hold their breath for really long periods of time. This allows them to walk on the bottom of riverbeds and waterways. What if they don’t want to walk? Like other mammals, they can suck in air and float across the water! Nothing can stop these guys from getting to the other side!

So I ask … what does the armadillo inspire in you?

Fossil Doesn’t Equal Failure

Hi all, Thanks again for tuning in. I recently had the opportunity to speak at the first annual national biomimicry forum and education summit. The following is a transcript of the talk I gave including some of the associated imagery. Hope you all enjoy Fossil Doesn’t Equal Failure: Continue reading

Talking about Biomimicry

It’s mind-blowing that it’s already been three years since Bill, Emily and I started the adventure of pursuing our PhDs in Biomimicry. Time has flown by. It definitely has been a challenge being part of the first cohort, but it has also been very rewarding and exciting seeing the program development first hand.

Having seven new PhD students starting this year, doubling our team, is one of those very exciting achievements! We can’t wait to collaborate with everyone, grow our knowledge by learning from the diverse backgrounds of the new students, and have interesting Biomimicry discussions and trips together.

Another rewarding accomplishment is that we are being invited more and more to give talks about our Biomimicry adventure. There is a growing interest in NEOhio to learn more about Biomimicry and be part of this movement.

In June, I was honored to share the stage with René Polin, President and Founder of Balance Inc, a design firm in Cleveland, to share our “Untold” experience at TEDxCLE. In our talk, “From Spiders to Elevators: Leveraging Biomimicry in the Design studio”, we share what it was like for a Biologist to work with a Design firm from both perspectives.

To stay on the topic of TEDx Talks, Emily will be giving one on September 29th, at TEDxUniversityofAkron. She will be sharing her Biomimicry insights and how it is to be “Breaking the Mold”.

Finally, Kelly has been selected to present her work on Biomimicry curriculum development at the 8th annual Biomimicry Education Summit in Austin, TX, on October 4th, which is held just prior to the SXSW Eco Conference.

Keep posted for more exciting news, and please share with other Biomimicry enthusiasts.

NEO Biomimicry Education Showcase

We’ve had a lot of posts on what’s happening globally with research, neat sustainability ideas, etc., but for this week, I thought I’d highlight something a bit closer to home – biomimicry education in Northeast Ohio.

Officially, I’m the first Biomimicry Education Fellow in the PhD program – hosted at Lake Ridge Academy, and serving the greater Lorain County Public Schools, thanks to a generous Nord Family Foundation grant. I’ve been on board for six months now, and have been amazed at how many schools in the region are taking it upon themselves to integrate biomimicry in some capacity at a more grassroots level. This past week, with the help of Key Bank, Great Lakes Biomimicry hosted a regional “Education Showcase,” which brought teachers of various schools together to highlight how they’ve been incorporating biomimicry into their classrooms.

As wide and varied were the schools, so were the approaches to biomimicry integration. One school, Tallmadge Public High School, was very bottom-up in its approach. The students came to the biology teacher to start a biomimicry club and although the teacher had no idea what biomimicry was, she was keen to get on board, resulting in two remarkable outcomes in two short years. A biomimicry science fair team made it to the state competition, and by the end of the second year, the club had grown threefold to over 60 students.

Another school – The Inventor’s Hall of Fame STEM School – has a “Biomimicry in Every Classroom” approach, utilizing Problem-Based Learning (PBL) across curricula, while integrating biomimicry throughout the subjects. Yet another school’s (Hawken) biology and art teachers worked together to get the kids to use biomimicry to solve an everyday issue they encounter, then represent the outcome in a fine arts piece, while having the high school entrepreneurship classes come in to help teach the students about making business pitches. This culminated in an awesome trifecta of disciplines coming together around biomimicry, and a showcase where projects were presented to parents.

In yet another interesting approach, MC2 STEM School did a nine-week biomimicry PBL focused approach, collaborating with business partners on a regional real-world issue, which resulted in prototypes designed by the students.

The enthusiasm was palpable in the room, not only for biomimicry, but coming together to learn from each other and see what else is going on in the region. Each approach was underpinned by a common thread, and that was devoted teachers putting in time, effort, and many times, their own funds, to teach kids about biomimicry.  There are a ton of really exciting things happening in Northeast Ohio when it comes to biomimicry education, but for my next post, I’m already looking forward to discussing an amazing workshop I’m currently attending – a Biomimicry for Educators Workshop at the Omega Institute, put on by Biomimicry NYC and sponsored by NYSERDA that brings together educators from a range of disciplines and grade levels. It’s awesome!

Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival

Northeast Ohio has proven ripe with opportunity for environmentalists.  A week doesn’t pass without a nature-appreciation or sustainability themed event coming onto our radar.  Every event I’ve attended has had an impressive turnout.  Today was no different.  The Cleveland Museum of Natural History hosted an estimated 250 guests for its 10th annual Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival.  The festival featured 13 films (program available here) varying in length from four minutes to 44 minutes.  One of the films was particularly moving.  “Chasing Water” is a 2011 film directed by photographer Pete McBride, and runs 18 minutes.  McBride’s family owns a ranch in Colorado which runs on an irrigation system fed by the Colorado River.  The film documents McBride’s journey, born of pure curiosity, to trace the water that sustains his family’s livelihood down river to the sea.  He follows the flow for 1500 miles at which point it abruptly ends in a disparaging landscape of stagnant pools laden with plastic waste and other garbage. The realization is astonishing…“For 6 million years water from the Colorado river emptied into the ocean, since 1998 it has not.”  The film’s imagery is stunning and it’s message powerful.  Without a visual aid like this short film, it’s difficult to truly appreciate the stresses the human population is placing on clean water resources.  The global problem manifests itself right in our backyard.  Plenty of cities in Texas have resorted to importing water from hundreds of miles away!

Biomimetic solutions to water access and management keep me hopeful!  The 2012-2013 Biomimicry Student Design Challenge solicited solutions to this very issue.  You can read about the first round winners of this Biomimicry 3.8 competition here.

Building with Nature Symposium

Today the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (CMNH) hosted a public symposium titled Building with Nature: A Symposium to Explore the Frontiers of Green Building, Biomimicry and Architecture. The purpose of the event was to brainstorm ideas for the redevelopment of  CMNH’s campus in University Circle.  The museum is hoping to develop a blueprint for a new building that responds to visitor needs and restores Earth’s natural systems.  In our opinion, this is a very respectable endeavor, and we hope CMNH paves the way for other educational facilities to reimagine their architecture.

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Janine Benyus visits UAkron

Incredible!  Only one month into our 5-year Biomimicry PhD within the Integrated Biosciences program at UAkron and the three of us have already had the honor of meeting our idol, Janine Benyus, author of the best-selling book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. The 1997 book spurred the development of biomimicry as a widely recognized term and research paradigm. In response to overwhelming interest in the subject following the book’s publication, Benyus and her business partners founded the Biomimicry Guild, a consulting company, and the Biomimicry Institute, a non-profit which promotes biomimicry education.  In 2010, the two organizations were integrated into a hybrid social enterprise branded Biomimicry 3.8.  The CEO of Biomimicry 3.8, Chris Allen, joined Janine Benyus on her University of Akron visit.

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David Suzuki Awarded Inamori Ethics Prize

Today we attended the award ceremony for the Inamori Ethics Prize at Case Western Reserve University.    We were accompanied by Tom Tyrell, the CEO of the Great Lakes Biomimicry Collaborative (GLBio).  GLBio is an organization that brings together individuals and organizations in Northeast Ohio committed to building a regional (and one day global) biomimicry network.  Leaders at GLBio first envisioned a Biomimicry PhD opportunity and partnered with UAkron and the Cleveland Institute of Art to make it a reality.

David Suzuki was this year’s Inamori Ethic prize recipient, and he gave a phenomenal acceptance speech encouraging a reevaluation of economic values.  He asked the audience, how can we achieve ecological sustainability when we’ve created an economy in which we are ever-striving for the unattainable “goal”: growth?

Suzuki’s talk led to some very thought-provoking class discussions about sustainability.  What is it?  What scale is appropriate for measuring sustainability? Can we achieve economic sustainability if growth is the goal?  If not, how could we reshape the economic system?