Daily question: Bees do it and birds do it, can we?

AskNature, a great new site on biomimicry, has terrific examples of how nature solves problems that we can learn from. One example is how “honeybees in a colony select a new hive location via range voting”:

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“Thomas Seeley, a biologist at Cornell University, has been looking into the uncanny ability of honeybees to make good decisions. With as many as 50,000 workers in a single hive, honeybees have evolved ways to work through individual differences of opinion to do what’s best for the colony. If only people could be as effective in boardrooms, church committees, and town meetings, Seeley says, we could avoid problems making decisions in our own lives.”

“In one test they put out five nest boxes, four that weren’t quite big enough and one that was just about perfect. Scout bees soon appeared at all five. When they returned to the swarm, each performed a waggle dance urging other scouts to go have a look. (These dances include a code giving directions to a box’s location.) The strength of each dance reflected the scout’s enthusiasm for the site. After a while, dozens of scouts were dancing their little feet off, some for one site, some for another, and a small cloud of bees was buzzing around each box.”

Another example explains how a toucan’s “beak design absorbs high-energy impacts” as shown in Valerie Abbott‘s photo:

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The structure of the toucan beak teaches us principles of composite material design for light-weight strength and stiffness. Despite its large size (a third of the length of the bird) and considerable strength, the toucan beak comprises only one twentieth the bird’s mass. While the large strong beak is useful in foraging, defense and attracting mates, its low density is essential for the toucan to retain its ability to fly. The beak’s solid outer shell sandwiches within it a closed-cell, foam-like structure made of struts which, together with thin protein membranes, enclose variably shaped air spaces. The solid shell layer is built of overlapping, hexagonally-shaped thin plates of keratin protein held together by an organic glue…

Are you aware of man-made objects around you whose designs were directly inspired by natural structures and strategies?