Insect Innovations

by Deidra Wirakusumah, Workshop Designer and Webinar Instructor

Here at Livin Farms, we are designing technology for insects. But did you know insects have long inspired technology?

Whether it is engineering, computer science, biology, architecture, security, or construction, human society has learned a lot from insect form and function. Don’t believe me? Keep reading and see just a few recent examples of what we can achieve when we learn from our insect allies...

Insects have not only inspired innovation, but allowed us to improve on existing technologies, like solar panels:

Ulrike Leone from Pixabay

All the Better To See You With

One of the defining characteristics of insects are their compound eyes. Unlike the eyes most of the animals you may first think of, dogs, snakes, birds, fish, or humans, that have eyes that see a single image (or rather two images put together as one image by your brain), insects have eyes that see many different images at once. It is not even completely clear yet what exactly it is that they see. What we do know is that compound eyes allow insects to have a wider field of vision than we do, albeit not as focused. They are also quite sensitive to light and movement, which comes in handy when avoiding predators that would want to eat them. Scientists from City University of New York, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University have created a material based on the eyes of moths. The incorporation of this material to X-ray imaging means an increase in resolution, as well as a reduction in X-ray doses for patients.

Insect eyes are very different than our own, and while their vision is not as focused, they have a broader field of vision:

Егор Камелев on Unsplash


Just Wing It!

Butterflies are eye-catching and beautiful. Actually, butterfly wings are amazing for more than just the colors that we see. Some species of butterflies seem boring to us under regular light, but can be extremely vibrant under UV lighting. Some species have even evolved to look one way in the eyes of potential partners and a different way to predators, thereby increasing likelihoods of finding a mate while decreasing the likelihood of being eaten.

We know that butterfly wings are made of tiny scales, and have many randomly sized microscopic holes. But these wings are so complicated, we are continuously learning new things about them, and we are nowhere close to unlocking their full mysteries. Studies into these seemingly simple appendages have yielded some amazing innovations including improvements to the efficiency and effectiveness of solar panels, bike helmets, and anti-counterfeit technology.

There is more to the wings of a butterfly than meets the eye. Look at them under different types of light and you may find they look very different:

Yuichi Kageyama on Unsplash

Insect See, Insect Do

As it turns out, we are not just learning from the physical bodies of insects, but also the way they think and organize. Ants, termites, some bees and wasps are just some examples of insects that form large social groups. Studies of these social insects show behavior such as collective-decision making, disease control, and even farming. These colonies can range from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands of individuals, so their ability to make any decision as a collective is quite marvelous. Studying the behavior of such colonies have allowed us to solve engineering, design, and computing problems. African termite mounds, along with indigenous masonry, have even inspired the making of Zimbabwe’s Eastgate Centre, an office and shopping complex that self-regulates the temperature of the building. That means it does not need conventional air-conditioning or heating systems, and uses much less energy than a conventional building its size. Higher energy savings, plus lower rent costs, sounds good to me!


Keep in mind this is just the tip, of the tip, of the ice burg in terms of insect-inspired innovations. Despite all these brilliant advances, one thing holds true, none of the technologies we have made can even hold a candle to the insects that inspired them. There are still so many questions to be answered, and so much to learn from our tiny, endlessly complex, companions. Turns out, for all that we have learned, mother nature is still by far the best inventor there is.


Have You Heard?

We know everyone is dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that this can be a stressful, and uncertain time. 

We at Livin Farms would like to share a story with you about what social insects, specifically ants, are teaching researchers about fighting infections among dense populations.

Sneak peek of Michael Schulson's article on Undark Magazine:

Social distancing, antimicrobial cleaning, and immunizations are all among the methods used by these animals to control disease where they live very close together. Sound familiar? Check out the article here.


Want to Learn More? Check out our sources:

All the Better To See You With:

Just Wing It!:

Insect See, Insect Do: