30 Animals That Made Us Smarter

30 Animals That Made Us Smarter

By BBC World Service

Amazing things humans have learnt from the animal kingdom. Inspiring, fascinating, bingeable.


Insects and mobile phone

S2 Ep 30. Smart phones could become even smarter – thanks to ants, beetles, moths and spiders! A multi-animal special episode, marking the season 2 finale. Patrick explores what could be an insect inspired phone of the future! There’s the story of the fire ants and bark beetles and a new camera lens with a much greater field of view. The hairs on butterflies, moths and spiders could help with an amazing new microphone. Moths might make it easier to look at our phones in bright sunlight. There’s also a waterproof, anti-bacterial cover which could be based on the wings of cicadas. Thanks for listening and please help us spread the word. #30Animals
17/01/2220m 51s

Butterfly and eye implant

S2 Ep 29. Not all butterflies are colourful. The transparent wings of the longtail glasswing butterfly may hold the key to more effective eye implants. This could be of huge benefit to people with glaucoma - the second leading cause of blindness in the world. Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
10/01/2217m 9s

Slug and surgical glue

S2 Ep 28. From goo to super glue! Slug slime may hold the key to mending wounds without stitches or staples. Scientists have developed new adhesives based on the properties of slug slime, that are as sticky as any glue, stretchier than a rubber band and aren’t toxic to humans. This sticky substance could be used to repair a delicate organ like the heart or lung without using methods that could damage the organ. Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
03/01/2217m 35s

Dragonfly and sky spy

S2 Ep 27. The amazing agility of a dragonfly leads to the creation of a new spy drone. Their four wings can move independently of each other, enabling them to fly forwards, backwards, sideways, up and down and suddenly stop and hover like a helicopter. This caught the attention of engineers who wanted to develop a small drone that could be used by the military as a spying device. In the future, this sort of technology might send back pictures from areas where it’s too dangerous for humans to go. Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
27/12/2115m 59s

Kingfisher and soil erosion

S2 Ep 26. A very clever solution to a significant environmental problem based on a kingfisher’s eyelids. When the brightly coloured bird dives for food, its eyes are covered in a way that protects the kingfisher’s eyeballs, rather like swimming goggles protect ours. Architects have copied this design to help prevent soil erosion on the banks of the huge Three Gorges Dam in China. Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
20/12/2114m 9s

Bees and fast deliveries

S2 Ep25. Sweet moves! Honey bees have developed an extraordinary form of communication known as the “waggle dance”, which directs other bees to where the best nectar can be found. As more and more bees explore the area, their directions become more refined. This method of refining information has been copied into an algorithm to help delivery drivers save time and fuel, without the need to plot journeys by hand. Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
13/12/2115m 53s

Jellyfish and underwater robot

S2 Ep 24. The world’s most efficient swimmer is the moon jellyfish! It’s the inspiration for a soft underwater robot that is safe enough to use in fragile environments like coral reefs and aquatic archaeological sites. By contracting a ring of muscle, the jellyfish can push water out of their bell-shaped bodies, thrusting them forwards without using much energy at all. Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
06/12/2114m 35s

Polar bear and insulation

S2 Ep 23. The science behind some fascinating fur could help humans keep warm in space. A polar bear’s fur is brilliant at insulating it from freezing arctic temperatures. Each shaft of hair contains multiple chambers which trap heat close to the skin, making it an incredible thermal insulator. Now, scientists have copied its structure to build a light and flexible material which may be useful for the aerospace industry. Let us know what you think. #30Animals Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
29/11/2120m 27s

Electric eels and medical implants

S2 Ep 22. From heart stopper to heart saver? The electric eel creates energy within its body to shock its prey. Scientists are copying the electricity-producing cells of the eel to develop a new type of soft, fleshy battery which may be used inside the body to power medical implants. Let us know what you think. #30Animals Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
22/11/2117m 38s

Camel and desert architecture

S2 Ep 21. Take a peek into a camel’s nose! The science inside could help to cool desert homes. A camel re-absorbs the water normally lost in the breathing cycle, keeping its temperature down. An architect has copied this to create a system that could control the temperature of desert dwellings without the need for costly electricity. Let us know what you think. #30Animals Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
15/11/2115m 30s

Lobsters and space telescopes

S2 Ep 20. How a sea creature can help us see more of our universe. A lobster’s eyes have evolved to spot food and potential threats in murky conditions at the bottom of the ocean. Scientists have copied their structure to create a new X-ray telescope that can be used to see into the dark expanse of space. Recordings of pulsars courtesy of The University of Manchester/Jodrell Bank. Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
08/11/2120m 15s

Pangolins and Waterloo Station

S2 Ep 19. A tricky design challenge solved! All thanks to the scaly skin of the pangolin. Scales cover its body in an overlapping pattern, providing both flexibility and armour against attack. Architects copied this to create a glass roof for a famous British railway station, which meant the structure could fit into an oddly shaped location. Let us know what you think. #30Animals Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
01/11/2117m 13s

Ants and mini robots

S2 Ep18. Snap! The trap-jaw ant’s amazing jaws can move faster than a speeding bullet, snapping shut at a top speed of 230km per hour. When the ant bites down, the force is so great that it launches the insect high into the air. Their powerful spring mechanism is being copied by scientists and may help move a new type of mini robot, which one day could be deployed in situations too dangerous for humans to enter – like fires or earthquake zones. Thanks for listening. Let us know what you think. #30Animals Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
24/10/2117m 53s

Horseshoe crabs and vaccines

S2 Ep 17. A new synthetic test to create safe vaccines – based on the secrets of the horseshoe crab and its blue blood. Scientists hope this new technology could mean they no longer need to use the blood to test vaccines for harmful bacteria. Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
17/10/2116m 24s

Arapaima fish and armour

S2 Ep16. It’s a “living fossil”! This fish can resist piranha attacks and is inspiring a new body armour. The arapaima has been swimming the waters of the Amazon for millions of years. It’s also home to a famous predator, the fearsome piranha. The Arapaima has a secret weapon – it’s scales are both tough and flexible and they’ve caught the attention of scientists. Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
10/10/2118m 24s

Barn owl and drone

S2 Ep15. Learning from Lily the owl – could she help small aircraft cope with turbulence? Scientists hope what they’ve learnt about barn owls might help with the design of drones. Let us know what you think. #30 Animals www. bbcworldservice.com/30animals
03/10/2119m 46s

Manta ray and pollution solution

S2 Ep14. Will a ray save the day? It’s inspiring a way to prevent more pollution of our oceans. As sea water enters a manta ray’s large mouth, plankton are captured and other particles are thrown up by whirlpools. Systems are being developed to extract or capture microplastics from water. Thanks for listening. Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
26/09/2119m 17s

Cicada and safe surfaces

S2 Ep13. Bye-bye bacteria! How an insect’s wings inspired materials that could keep surfaces free from bacterial infections. The wings of cicadas are covered with tiny spikes which burst the walls of bacteria and kill them. Replicating this remarkable design could lead to the development of antibacterial materials with potential for industrial and medical use. Thanks for listening. Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
19/09/2114m 59s

Cats and road safety

S2 Ep12. We love cats (well, many people do)! Thanks to one feline friend, they help keep us safe. An inventor narrowly avoided a road accident thanks to the eyes of a cat. He developed reflective road studs and named them, fittingly, ‘cat’s eyes’, which help us drive safely at night. Thanks for listening. #30Animals Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
12/09/2118m 41s

Octopus and transplants

S2 Ep11. Can the remarkable dexterity of octopus suckers help improve delicate surgery? The octopus uses its powerful arms to grip onto rocks, capture prey and walk around the sea floor. Suckers are found along the arms which are crucial for manipulating objects. The action of these suckers has inspired a device to transfer fragile sheets of thin tissue in surgical procedures.Thanks for listening. Let us know what you think. #30AnimalsGet in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
05/09/2117m 36s

Rose butterfly and solar panels

S2 Ep10. Their wings aren’t just for show! The rose butterfly can help us harness energy from sunlight. Scientists have been inspired by their wings’ unique lattice structure. This could lead to cheaper and more effective solar panels.Thanks for listening. Let us know what you think. #30AnimalsGet in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
29/08/2112m 21s

Sponge and skyscraper

S2 Ep9. Ever heard of Venus’s Flower Basket? It’s the marine sponge inspiring bridges and skyscrapers! Its delicate and resistant structure is both lightweight and very resistant to buckling - it may provide the blueprint for the next generation of big builds.Thanks for listening. Let us know what you think. #30AnimalsGet in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
22/08/2116m 22s

Cow and sewage treatment

S2 Ep8. A cow’s amazing stomach could hold the key to stopping wastewater pollution. Engineers have designed a new sewage treatment plant based on a cow’s unique digestive process. Wastewater is progressively cleaned by microorganisms until it’s safe enough to be released into the environment. This new plant does not need electricity to operate, so it’s environmentally-friendly.Thanks for listening. Let us know what you think. #30AnimalsGet in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
15/08/2115m 41s

Snake and rescue robot

S2 Ep7. Imagine being rescued by a snake! A new generation of wriggly robots, inspired by the movement of snakes, could save your life. The way a snake can move over a complex variety of landscapes could be replicated by robots to rescue people after earthquakes. It could even help with extra-terrestrial exploration.Thanks for listening. Let us know what you think. #30 AnimalsGet in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
08/08/2117m 47s

Mantis shrimp and aircraft

S2 Ep6. Bam! The mantis shrimp’s powerful punch could change the way we build cars and planes. The little crustacean has inspired lighter, more impact-resistant materials. These shrimps are ferocious predators which use their forelimbs to hit their prey with one of the strongest weight-for-weight punches on the planet. The design of their punching limb has caught the attention of scientists and could transform the way we create strong materials for the car and aerospace industries. Thanks for listening. Let us know what you think. #30Animals Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
01/08/2117m 25s

Wasp and keyhole surgery

S2 Ep5. Scared of wasps? They could help keep you alive, perhaps transforming life-saving keyhole surgery. Parasitic wasps possess a long tube which can reach inside the body of their host where they lay their eggs. Thanks for listening. Let us know what you think. #30Animals Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
25/07/2118m 54s

Hedgehog and helmet

S2 Ep4. A hedgehog could save your life! Spiky quills protect hedgehogs from being eaten by predators. But they also play an important role in cushioning the animal when it falls, keeping it safe even if it plunges from a great height. And now, they can help keep humans safe, too. By mimicking the flexibility, strength and pattern of the quills, scientists have developed a sports helmet that could prevent concussions. Thanks for listening. Let us know what you think. #30Animals Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
18/07/2115m 47s

Camel and cool medicines

S2 Ep3. Camels are cool. They cope with intense desert heat, inspiring a gel for storing medicines. It could extend the life of medicines, making it easier to transport them across the globe. Thanks for listening. Let us know what you think. #30Animals Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
11/07/2116m 58s

Squid and self-healing materials

S2 Ep2. What if a robot could fix itself? It’s the story of the secret of scary squid suckers, with their razor sharp teeth-like structures. They could hold the key to materials which can repair themselves without human intervention. Scientists think this could be useful for repairing hazmat suits and even robots. Thanks for listening. Let us know what you think. #30Animals Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
04/07/2118m 43s

Elephant and robotic arm

S2 Ep1. An elephant’s trunk is amazing. Imagine a robotic arm with the same capabilities. Not only does a trunk have the strength to topple trees and lift hundreds of kilograms in weight, it can also perform precise and delicate movements. It has inspired engineers to create a "bionic handling assistant", which can be used for all sorts of complex tasks. Thank you to Pranav, a 7-year-old listener from India, for suggesting the first story of the new season. Thanks for listening. Let us know what you think. #30Animals Get in touch: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
27/06/2116m 47s

Season 2 is coming soon!

Get ready to meet 30 more amazing animals. From cats to camels, ants to elephants, discover the unexpected things they can do that have inspired new technologies that make us smarter. Season 2 begins on 28 June.#30Animals
21/06/212m 11s

30 Animals LIVE

The "nerd-fest" live show! A scorpion and tarantula on stage, biomimicry bingo and animal music, recorded at the BBC Radio Theatre in London. Welcome to the season finale, with your suggestions of animals which are inspiring us. Watch all the animations here: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals With Patrick Aryee. #30Animals
21/10/1939m 40s

Spider and remote sensing

When a fly hits a spider’s web the web sends vibrations to the spider crouched at its edge. This is known as remote sensing. The webs may help us design sensors to detect vibrations in the earth and the built environment. These vibrations could be turned into electricity. This could lead to small scale energy harvesting. With Patrick Aryee. #30Animals www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
14/10/1916m 59s

Butterfly and paints

The wings of one of the most beautiful butterflies could transform paints and textiles. Scientists are fascinated by how the blue morpho produces its shimmering blue effect. With Patrick Aryee. #30Animals www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
07/10/1912m 42s

Peacock and computer screen

Unlocking the secrets of the dazzling colours in the tail of the peacock. It is designed to attract females but has caught the eye of scientists, as they mimic it to develop high-resolution reflective colour-screen displays. With Patrick Aryee. #30Animals www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
30/09/1916m 1s

Ant and networks

How road, subway and computer systems could be helped by trails created by turtle ants. For extra information about all episodes, visit: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
23/09/1915m 4s

Mussel and foetal surgery

Babies in the womb could be saved with the help of a glue based on proteins found in mussels. Performing surgery on foetuses in the womb is an astonishing medical feat but closing the delicate amniotic sac after surgery is difficult. A synthetic adhesive could do the job and help save lives of the youngest patients. For extra information about all episodes, visit our #30Animals website: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
16/09/1913m 54s

Butterfly and butterfly house

Imagine a building based on the shape of an egg – all thanks to the butterfly. Nature has long been a source of inspiration for the design of buildings, like the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona. This is the story of a butterfly house inspired by the shape of the eggs of the White Royal butterfly and the patterns on their shells. www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals With Patrick Aryee. #30Animals
09/09/1913m 17s

Dolphin and tsunami detector

The way dolphins communicate is being studied to create tsunami early warning systems. They produce click sounds to help navigate and hunt for prey. They listen back to the echoes to help create a 3D image and visualise their surroundings. www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals With Patrick Aryee. #30Animals
02/09/1914m 9s

Bat and robot

Picture the scene after a serious earthquake or a tornado. A flying robot inspired by bats could help survey the damage. There may be burst gas pipes, live electrical wires and many other dangers. Scientists have been studying bats to design an “eye in the sky” for use in exactly these situations. www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals With Patrick Aryee. #30Animals
26/08/1914m 45s

Fish schools and windfarm

The way hundreds of fish move together may help with the design of wind turbines. Schools of fish appear to move as one - turning, contracting, expanding, even parting and then coming back together again. This is a beautiful sight. Scientists have been studying them to try to make wind farms more efficient. www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals With Patrick Aryee. #30Animals
19/08/1913m 59s

Bombardier beetle and fuel injection

It blasts a toxic spray at predators. Now this beetle may help cars become more fuel efficient. The bombardier is the species of beetle that even sprayed acid in Charles Darwin’s mouth. The 'biological cannons' may help in the design of powerful fuel injection systems. See our animations here: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals With Patrick Aryee. #30Animals
12/08/1912m 33s

Bat and unassisted flight

Imagine flapping your arms and flying. Could we do that based on how the bat does it? Leonardo Da Vinci was fascinated by the flight of bird and bats and used to sketch ideas in notebooks for a flying machine called the Ornithopter. With Patrick Aryee.Catch-up with our animations here: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
05/08/1915m 38s

Spider and window glass

How can we prevent millions of birds from being killed by flying into windows? The solution could rest with spiders. Webs containing UV reflective threads deter birds from colliding with them. With Patrick Aryee. To see our spider and window glass animation go to: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
29/07/1914m 23s

Whale and wind turbine

The shape of flippers may help with the efficiency of wind turbines, thanks to humpback whales. Bumps on the edge of their flippers assist them, as they power through water. Biologist Frank Fish discovered this when he saw a sculpture. With Patrick Aryee. For more information and animations: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals Please leave rating and reviews and help us to spread the word. #30Animals
22/07/1914m 50s

Gecko and adhesives

How do geckos walk up walls and across ceilings? It is all down to the hair-like structure on their feet. A sticky material based on these clever lizards could help us grab debris in space! With Patrick Aryee. For more information and animations: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
15/07/1913m 22s

Spider and rescue robot

Meet the spider-inspired robot that one day might just save your life. Based on how spiders move, it could get to places too difficult for a rescue team to access. Just like our eight-legged friends, it can squeeze around obstacles and through small spaces. With Patrick Aryee. For more information and animations: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
08/07/1913m 13s

Shark and hospital surfaces

Millions of ridged scales make it difficult for bacteria to attach to the skin of a shark. Can we reduce infections and fight superbugs in a similar way? Have a look at our beautiful animation to see how the shark’s scales or ‘denticles’ work: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals With Patrick Aryee. #30Animals
01/07/1913m 8s

Albatross and drone

Imagine a drone that can fly like the Wandering Albatross. The huge bird harnesses power from the wind and sun and glides over the sea. It is extraordinary. And an engineer has designed a robotic glider that can also ride the wind, while surfing the waves like a sailboat. With Patrick Aryee. See all our animations so far: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30animals
24/06/1914m 59s

Stenocara beetle and water collector

It performs headstands in a desert; now this beetle is teaching us how to collect water. The Stenocara beetle survives in one of the most arid places in the world – the Namib Desert in southern Africa. Scientists have been studying its wings and back. With Patrick Aryee. See our Stenocara beetle animation: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
17/06/1912m 45s

Sea otter and wetsuit

Want a warm and waterproof wetsuit? Then take a look at how the sea otter does it! It’s all down to air-trapping hairs. Ideally, surfers want something that is flexible and easy to wear, which sheds water as quickly as possible when you are out of the sea and will keep you warm when you are in it. With Patrick Aryee. www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
10/06/1913m 34s

Desert spider and Mars robot

The cartwheeling spider acrobat that could help us explore Mars. This is no ordinary spider and it has led to an extraordinary robot design, perfect for space exploration. With Patrick Aryee. www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals The audio for this podcast was updated on 7th June 2019.
03/06/1914m 58s

Cod and antifreeze

Fish living in sub-zero waters are inspiring ways to de-ice planes and store ice cream. Arctic and Atlantic cod and also snow fleas are able to live at temperatures which would normally freeze human blood. We are learning from them - new methods are now being developed that could even prolong the viability of human organs which have to be transported over vast distances. With Patrick Aryee.
27/05/1914m 51s

Termite and ventilation system

A building which heats and cools itself? How was that possible? Termites had the answer. The insects circulate air around their homes or mounds and regulate the temperature inside. They inspired an architect called Mick Pearce, who was designing the heating and ventilation system for a large office and retail building in Harare. With Patrick Aryee. www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
20/05/1916m 17s

Mussel and plywood

How a trip to the seaside led to the development of a glue and a formaldehyde-free plywood. When a scientist called Kaichang Li had trouble pulling mussels off a rock, he decided to investigate their tenacious grip. See our animations from previous episodes: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals
13/05/1914m 28s

Firefly and lightbulb

The secrets of a firefly’s glow could help us brighten our lives and create more energy efficient lighting. See our animation: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals Male fireflies attract mates by producing flashes of light in the dark at night. Scientists have been studying this in order to improve our own LED bulbs. #30Animals
06/05/1911m 51s

Tardigrade and vaccine transport

A bizarre looking creature that may help us make vaccines last longer to move them across the globe. It is less than a millimetre long but the tardigrade is tough - really tough! Its extraordinary survival abilities may hold the key to helping us extend the shelf life of both blood and vaccines. This could extend the distances they can be transported, saving more lives. With Patrick Aryee. www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30animals
29/04/1914m 5s

Bat and visual aid

Click, click, click! The bat’s navigational skills could be life changing to people who are blind. Daniel Kish has mastered the art of echolocation and can navigate by tongue clicking. In this podcast, you can try too. With Patrick Aryee. www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30animals
22/04/1914m 51s

Woodpecker and black box

A bird’s remarkable skull and the quest to protect aeroplane flight data recorders from damage caused by high impacts. Woodpeckers can hammer repeatedly on trees without damaging their brain. Could this lead to new designs for black boxes and bicycle helmets? With Patrick Aryee. www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30animals
15/04/1914m 10s

Mosquito and surgical needle

The blood sucking pest and a pain free surgical needle. Scientists have been studying the mosquito’s mouthparts. Could the dreaded ‘prick’ of a needle soon be a thing of the past? With Patrick Aryee. #30Animals
08/04/1914m 56s

Octopus and camouflage

The eight-limbed master of disguise and surveillance technology. The colour and texture-changing abilities of the octopus are helping researchers develop camouflage. Can we make robots do the same thing? With Patrick Aryee. #30Animals
01/04/1913m 4s

Kingfisher and bullet train

The story of the bird and the engineer. How the kingfisher inspired the design of a train. The 500 series Shinkansen, also known as bullet train, is one of the fastest in the world. It is also quiet, but that was not always the case. This is the tale of Japanese engineer Eiji Nakatsu, the kingfisher, an owl, a penguin and biomimicry. With Patrick Aryee. #30Animals
25/03/1914m 59s

The preview

"It’s about animals which have inspired us": Patrick Aryee explains what it’s all about. Episode one available from 25 March 2019. #30Animals
09/03/193m 9s
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