Patterns in Nature

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

Places To Go

The following are places to go (some real and some virtual) to find out about patterns in nature.

Anatomy of the Hive
Check out NOVA's page on bee hives. Learn how hives are made, how bees they communicate with each other, and much more.
Conservation and the Water Cycle
Virtually visit the oceans of the world to learn that nature has an effective and efficient pattern of recycling the water on the earth.
Grand Canyon
There's no better place to see patterns in nature than the Grand Canyon.
Spider Silk
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.
Webs and Cocoons
Many spiders and insects are able to spin webs and build other structures.
Yellowstone National Park: Wildland Fire
Visit Yellowstone National Park to learn about nature's pattern of natural fires.

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People To See

African Wildlife Foundation - Zebra
Get to know zebras and learn how their pattern of stripes helps them survive.
The Brain Eater
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?
Hinterland Who's Who (pdf)
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.
Lemmings Suicide Myth
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.
The Snowflake Man
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?

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Things To Do

About Rainbows
Find out why the pattern of colors is always the same in rainbows--red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.
Bad Meteorology: Raindrops Are Shaped Like Teardrops
Have students find out in what shapes raindrops naturally occur. According to this site, raindrops do not form in teardrop shapes.
Beartracker's Animal Tracks Den
Examine the pattern of tracks left by mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, insects, and humans.
Bees, Microscopy & Mathematics
The comb of the honeybee is organized into regular hexagonal cells, showing a repeating, symmetrical mathematical pattern. Why the hexagon?
Carbon Counter
Calculate how much carbon dioxide you emit in your everyday life. Carbon dioxide emissions contribute to the pattern of global warming.
Carbon Nanotubes
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.
Coral Reef Adventure
Find out how large groups of fish all swim together in a similar pattern—if one fish turns, all the fish turn.
Cracking the Code
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.
Forces of Nature
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.
How Females Choose Their Mates
Discover the patterns by which the females of many species carefully and thoughtfully choose a mate.
How Stuff Works: How Animal Camouflage Works
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.
Laboratory of Tree Ring Research
Study the patterns of tree rings. The study of tree rings is called dendrochronology.
Ladybug Lady
Get up close and personal with patterns of spots on a ladybug's wings.
National Park Service: Geology of Sand Dunes
Explore the patterns of sand dunes. Learn about the different kinds of dunes, how they form, how they migrate, and their benefit to nature.
The Rhythms of Shifting Sands
All these dune fields lie within desert basins surrounded by mountains. They are desolate with a quiescent and haunting beauty.
Shuttle Images of Cloud Patterns
View these images taken by the Space Shuttle of various cloud patterns.
Solve the Puzzle of the Seashell Spiral
Learn more about how the Fibonacci series works.
Surfline: Surf Cams
Check out worldwide surf cams to experience the patterns of ocean waves.
USA Today Weather: The Basic Shapes of Snow Crystals
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.
What Are the Parts of a Tree?
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.

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Teacher Resources

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  • 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.