Top 5 Animal Design Stories

At Animal Dynamics, we take inspiration from the natural world to design super-efficient systems. The animal world is full of inspiration, with intricate and fascinating stories about how evolution by natural selection has generated incredible designs. 

From weird sex to extreme weather survival, read our top 5 animal design stories below. 

1. Fossa – is it a cat? No, it’s a mongoose…

The fossa lives exclusively on the island of Madagascar, Africa. Looking at it, you’d probably think it’s a cat. Well, you’d be wrong. 

In present-day Africa and Asia, the top-predator niche is occupied by big cats. When Madagascar became an island about 88 million years ago, as a result of the break-up of the Gondwana supercontinent, big cats were not present leaving this niche vacant.  

So, due to its long isolation from other continents, this niche was filled by the fossa, evolved from its mongoose-like ancestor. And, in becoming the top-predator, the fossa evolved a very cat-like design. 

The cat-like design of the fossa includes it’s body shape, it’s behaviours and even retractable claws. Big cats and the fossa evolved a very similar design for the top-predator niche, completely separately, suggesting  convergence towards an “optimal” design.

2. Tardigrades – born survivors

These tiny (0.5mm long) creatures, also known as water bears, can be found in the most extreme environments on earth. The variation in environments they live in is incredible – from deserts to glaciers and from mountain peaks to the deepest oceans. 

Surviving all these extreme conditions is a real engineering problem to solve. So, how do tardigrades do it? Well, tardigrades are able to enter a state called cryptobiosis, where they reduce their metabolic rate to less than a hundredth of its normal rate and lose 99% of their water content. They have a special protein called trehalose which protects their body from damage due to this water loss. When they re-enter water, they re-animate, allowing them to survive harsh conditions until more favourable ones come around.

3. Rufa red knot – long-haul flyer

The Rufa Red Knot is a migratory bird that travels up to nearly 30,000 km per year. Their migration route begins in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina and extends right up to the Canadian Arctic. They are one of the most extreme long-range flyers, especially considering their small size (0.1 to 0.2kg). 

This sort of engineering design is exactly what inspires our work. The Rufa Red Knot flies for around 2400 km at a time, enabled by large fat intake as fuel and incredible ability to build the muscles needed for flight. The Rufa Red Knot is incredibly aerodynamic to migrate long distances as efficiently as possible, which means using as little energy as they can. Its aerodynamic designs include a huge wing span, an extremely high metabolic rates and goes right down to the architecture of the feathers. 

4. Anglerfish – weird sex stories

The anglerfish actually refers to a group of species, but the whole group makes our list for their design. Their whole appearance is a combination of weird features. They have long lure with a light organ containing light-producing bacteria to attract prey in the deep dark oceans. They have huge jaws and a distensible stomach to be able to eat prey much larger than themselves. It has the perfect body shape for floating motionless, waiting for prey to be attracted to their lure.

Well, that’s the females. But, in fact, males don’t even look like they are the same species. Males are tiny in comparison to the females and have a completely degenerative digestive system. Males survive by biting into the skin of the females, dissolving the skin with enzymes and fusing its blood vessels with the female. They live as a completely reliant “parasite” on the female body. Females often have multiple males fused to them at one time. And this mutualistic symbiosis is why the anglerfish makes our list.

5. Mimic octopus – designed to be anything it wants to be…

The mimic octopus is the master of disguise and flexible design. Designing yourself to look like something else is a common strategy in the animal kingdom for protection. However, the mimic octopus takes it one step further. It’s not designed to look like something else – it’s designed to be able to change to look like anything else!

The mimic octopus changes its skin colour and texture for camouflage and even to mimic the colouration of other poisonous animals. It does through use of chromatophores – sacks in the skin containing pigments controlled by the muscular system. By changing the size of the chromatophores, the mimic octopus can change its colour and texture. 

But the mimic octopus takes its disguises one step further – it can actually morph into different shapes. Some examples of animals it mimics includes lionfish, sole, sea snakes and jellyfish. Watch it in action below.

Got any favourite animal design stories of your own? Add to the comments below.


(all photos from Wikimedia Commons; video from YouTube)

Written by: Zoe Griffiths