The natural world contains an infinite variety of patterns. Patterns are found in plants and foliage and in animals. All living things create patterns. Patterns are also constantly being created by simple physical laws. There are patterns in the sand dunes created by blowing winds. There is a pattern in the vortex of a whirlpool and in the formation of an ice crystal.
Sample some of the following activities to learn more about natural patterns.
Places To Go People To See Things To Do Teacher Resources Bibliography
The following are places to go (some real and some virtual) to find out about patterns in nature.
Check out NOVA's page on bee hives. Learn how hives are made, how bees they communicate with each other, and much more.
Virtually visit the oceans of the world to learn that nature has an effective and efficient pattern of recycling the water on the earth.
There's no better place to see patterns in nature than the Grand Canyon.
Learn about the different patterns you can find in spider silk.
Tour termite mounds. These insects form huge colonies and have a pattern of social structure similar to bees and ants.
Many spiders and insects are able to spin webs and build other structures.
Visit Yellowstone National Park to learn about nature's pattern of natural fires.
Get to know zebras and learn how their pattern of stripes helps them survive.
Meet mad cows. What is the pattern in nature by which infectious disease is spread? Learn about this mysterious disease that is changing the way that Europeans eat. What is the danger of this cattle-born illness spreading across the ocean to America?
Meet millions of lemmings and find out if it's true that they mass together and jump off cliffs when their population gets too high. Population explosions of animals are likely linked to such patterns as food availability, climate, and density of predators.
One myth deeply entrenched in our language is that of the "Lemming Suicide Plunge" - where lemmings, apparently overcome by deep-rooted impulses, deliberately run over a cliff, to be dashed to their deaths on the rocks below, or to drown in the raging ocean.
Wilson A. Bentley is known as the Snowflake Man because of his work with snow crystals (commonly known as snowflakes). After years of trial and error, in 1885 he became the first person to photograph a single snow crystal.
White with black stripes or black with white stripes? This is one of the most-asked questions about zebras. So what's up with the stripes?
Find out why the pattern of colors is always the same in rainbows--red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.
Have students find out in what shapes raindrops naturally occur. According to this site, raindrops do not form in teardrop shapes.
Examine the pattern of tracks left by mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, insects, and humans.
The comb of the honeybee is organized into regular hexagonal cells, showing a repeating, symmetrical mathematical pattern. Why the hexagon?
Calculate how much carbon dioxide you emit in your everyday life. Carbon dioxide emissions contribute to the pattern of global warming.
Graphite is formed from carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern. Discover why this form of carbon is used in pencils. Learn about the strongest fibers known (tubes of graphite or carbon nanotubes) and their applications.
Find out how large groups of fish all swim together in a similar pattern—if one fish turns, all the fish turn.
Learn about the latest in ground-breaking biomedical treatments and research that attempt to crack the genetic code with the goal of eliminating disease and ensuring healthy old age for humans.
Here are some simple instructions for folding and then cutting snowflake-like designs with two, four, six, and eight repeats.
Become a forensics detective and track down the pattern of DNA that helps scientists solve crimes, match organ donors and recipients, identify catastrophe victims, detect bacteria in water and food, determine pedigree for livestock, and more.
Explore the patterns of tornadoes and learn why almost all tornadoes occur in the United States.
Check out the parts of tree leaves. They have their own unique patterns. What are the petioles, teeth, and lobes of a leaf?
Is time a pattern of nature? Anciently, time was based on observations of seasonal cycles and of the motion of celestial bodies.
Discover the patterns by which the females of many species carefully and thoughtfully choose a mate.
Learn about the ways in which animals protect themselves from predators---how the patterns on their skin, fur, or scales can help them blend into their surroundings.
Click on Web of Life to learn about the patterns of nature through the story of a common garden spider.
Study the patterns of tree rings. The study of tree rings is called dendrochronology.
Get up close and personal with patterns of spots on a ladybug's wings.
Explore the patterns of sand dunes. Learn about the different kinds of dunes, how they form, how they migrate, and their benefit to nature.
Look for repeating shapes in nature. The pentagonal shape is one of the primary geometric forms for organic shapes (living organisms). Many flowers and starfish have pentagonal shapes.
All these dune fields lie within desert basins surrounded by mountains. They are desolate with a quiescent and haunting beauty.
View these images taken by the Space Shuttle of various cloud patterns.
Learn more about how the Fibonacci series works.
Check out worldwide surf cams to experience the patterns of ocean waves.
Explore the patterns of snow crystals. As snow crystals form they take on a six-sided, or hexagonal shape. The shape of a snow crystal is dependent upon the temperature at which a crystal forms and the humidity of the air. The many things that happen to snow crystals as they fall, such as collisions, partial melting and colliding with water drops that freeze to them, create even more shapes. This is why irregular crystals with no easily identifiable form are the most common.
Learn how the pattern of tree rings really indicate the age of a tree. The cambium is the growing part of the trunk of a tree. Each year the cambium produces new phloem and sapwood. These cells grow more slowly in cold winter or maybe in dry desert summer, and this slower growth produces the tree's annual rings. These rings can also reflect the climatic and environmental factors that influence growth rates. Dendrochronology is the scientific study of annual tree rings.
- Ball, Philip, The Self-made Tapestry. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1999.
- Burton, Jane. The Nature and Science of Patterns. Milwaukee: Gareth Stevens Publishing. 1998.
- The Guinness Book of Amazing Nature. [England]: Guinness Pub., c1998.
- Lindecker, Jacques. Amazing Nature. Hauppauge, N.Y.: Barron's Educational Series, 1998.
- Tucker, Priscilla. Basic Nature Projects: 101 Fun Explorations. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, c1995.