March 31, 2022 | David F. Coppedge

Animals Display Mastery of Physics

From tiny to large, animals know how to
use the laws of physics to their advantage.

 

Acoustics

New study shows spiders use webs to extend their hearing (Binghamton University, 29 March 2022).

Watch the video clip in this press release to see how a grad student picked up a spider in a nature reserve and surprised his professor—not by scaring him, but by discovering how spiders use their web silk to create giant ears. In this way, they can “outsource” their hearing to the environment. The student let the spider build an orb web, then tested its response to sounds. The spider in the center reacted differently to sounds at different frequencies.

Thermodynamics

Ostrich necks act as a radiator to control their head temperature (New Scientist, 25 March 2022).

Jake Buehler writes, “Infrared images of ostrich necks show that they help the birds keep their heads cool in warm temperatures, lowering their heat stress and helping them reproduce more successfully.” The comical neck therefore has a purpose: an adaptation to wild swings in temperature. But will the necks evolve longer as a result of climate change? That’s a stretch.

Hydrostatics

In a surprise move, honeybee tongue hairs repel water (Phys.org, 14 March 2022).

One would think that a honeybee would want to attract fluid with its tongue, but hairs on the tiny tongue repel water. Why is that? The bee knows more than scientists do. The 16 to 20 stiff hairs on the tongue make it more flexible and able to forage among flowers of different shapes. And there’s more to it:

All photos by DFC

The team used various forms of microscopy, along with high-speed videography and computational modeling, in their investigation. These techniques showed that the individual hairs are stiff and hydrophobic, unlike the ring segments, which are soft and hydrophilic. This difference prevents the hairs from sticking to and stiffening the tongue once it starts bending, so it can bend further to get into crevices and reach food. The stiffness of the hairs also enhances their durability, enabling the bee to use its tongue millions of times during its lifetime. The researchers say their findings could inspire the design of sophisticated new materials, such as flexible microstructured fiber systems to capture and transport viscous liquids.

Hydrodynamics

Exploring Flow Transport in Egg Cells (Northwestern University, 11 March 2022).

A “completely new mechanism of biological motion in animals” has been discovered at Northwestern. The developing egg cells of fruit flies need to get nutrients to maintain their viability. Here’s how they do it:

Motor proteins “slingshot” microtubules towards oocytes, creating a current that brings nutrients and molecules to a developing egg cell. This flow transport had previously only been detected in plants, according to Vladimir Gelfand, PhD, the Leslie B. Arey Professor of Cell, Molecular, and Anatomical Sciences and senior author of the study.

Materials Science

Cracking under pressure: What teeth can teach us about modern materials (Idaho National Laboratory, 18 Feb 2022).

Almost all animals have teeth. Photos in this press release show scientists with an alligator head on the lab table, brushing its teeth for science. Scientists have long been fascinated by the properties of teeth. They can take a lot of stress without cracking. It’s clear why a government national laboratory would take interest in this study.

“Once we understand what makes dental enamel so tough, we can hopefully mimic those properties when engineering monolithic ceramics. This will allow for lighter weight, lower cost manufacturing of items such as turbine parts and body armor, thereby strengthening both our nation’s security and clean energy future,” Marsico said.


These are just a few examples of intelligent design in the animal world. How did these creatures master physics? They didn’t. Their Creator did.

 

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