The thorny devil

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The thorny devil

We told ya before. Nature is the best designer of all. Jelle Hoogenboom can tell. This month in 'Anonymous Animals' he introduces us to a creation that could help us solve many, many problems...

Sometimes nature offers alternatives to things you didn’t even realize that they were in need of one. Take drinking, for instance. You look for water and bring it to your mouth. Tada, thirst lessened! How could you improve such a simple thing? Enter the thorny devil.

Living in one of the driest places on earth, the Central Australian desert, finding water is not an easy task for this prickly little lizard. Rain is scarce and the few puddles dry up almost instantly. The only moisture you can find here on a regular basis, is the dew that forms in the night. Good luck trying to drink that!

The thorny devil has found a way. Its skin is as absorbing as blotting paper, and soaks up the dew that condenses on the devil’s thorns. Tiny grooves between the scales transport the water then to the mouth. This works so well, that this walking sponge can get a good sip by just standing on damp sand. It’s literally a mouth-watering solution!

Nature didn’t only come up with a solution for the thorny devil’s problem, this idea could also help some of ours. To travel from the feet to the mouth, the water has to defy gravity. But it doesn’t require a pump. It gets there because of an energy-free form of water transport called capillary action.

Biomimics, people who look at nature’s solutions to human problems, are very interested in this mechanism. Imagine how much energy is saved if a similar system is employed in the plumbing of skyscrapers. The lizard skin could even hold the solution for the 1 billion people with limited access to clean water.

In the end, this devil may turn out to be an angel.