The Biomimicry Taxonomy: Biology Organized by Function

    What Is the Biomimicry Taxonomy?

    Information organized on AskNature uses a classification system—the Biomimicry Taxonomy—to categorize the different ways in which organisms and natural systems address challenges. How these organisms and systems do so represents potential solutions to similar challenges that we face as humans.

    The Biomimicry Taxonomy organizes biology by function. In AskNature, the ways that organisms and systems have adapted in response to challenges are called strategies. Put another way, a strategy is how an organism does something and a function is why it does it.

    The following example illustrates how AskNature presents a strategy and a related function within the Biomimicry Taxonomy.


    What is the organism?

    Namibian beetle, which lives in the desert


    What challenge must the beetle address?

    Capturing water in a very arid climate


    How does the beetle address this challenge?

    The beetle’s wing covers gather water from the air using nanoscale bumps. View strategy page >


    Why does the beetle need to perform this strategy?

    To capture liquid

    This is represented by the Biomimicry Taxonomy as

    Group: Get, store, or distribute resources
    Sub-Group: Capture, absorb, or filter
    Function: Liquids

    As you can see from this example, the Biomimicry Taxonomy is organized as a hierarchy. In total, the taxonomy features eight groups comprised of 30 sub-groups that contain more than 160 functions. Download a one-page visual of the Biomimicry Taxonomy (PDF 776kB) for easy reference.

    How Do You Use the Biomimicry Taxonomy?

    The Biomimicry Taxonomy provides a novel way to approach your next innovation challenge sustainably. Look to the taxonomy as a tool when you first approach your design challenge, using its framework to ask questions of nature. For example, if you’re trying to make less toxic pigments, "ask" a Morpho butterfly how it creates its color. If you want to manufacture tough, lightweight building materials without unsustainable high pressures and temperatures, "ask" a toucan how it manages impact with its strong and light beak.

    An Example

    Here’s an example of how you could use the Biomimicry Taxonomy to solve your next innovation challenge. Use one or, better yet, all of these approaches to find inspiration from nature.

    The Innovation Challenge: You’re designing a building in an area of low rainfall. To ensure an adequate water supply, you want your building to capture rainwater and store it for future use.

    Approach #1. Identify verbs that directly define your challenge. Use the Biomimicry Taxonomy for ideas that shift from predetermined thoughts of how or what you’ll design to why you’re designing (in other words, your design's purpose or the outcomes it must accomplish). Use verbs that describe functions (such as move, break down, distribute, etc.). In this example, the questions you pose might be: How does nature…
    ●    Capture water?
    ●    Store water?

    Approach #2. Consider concepts that go beyond your exact challenge but are related enough to why you’re designing that they may have similar solutions. In this example, you may consider that some organisms (like the Namibian beetle) live in areas that experience little to no rain, yet they still get all of the water they need. Use the Biomimicry Taxonomy to spark ideas of new verbs, and think about different nouns. In this example, questions to pose might include: How does nature…
    ●    Absorb water?
    ●    Capture fog?
    ●    Manage humidity?
    ●    Move water?

    Approach #3. Turn your question completely around. Instead of asking how nature stores water, think about how it protects against excess water or keeps water out. The Biomimicry Taxonomy is a great resource for ideas of verbs that represent opposites. In this example, you might ask: How does nature…
    ●    Remove water?
    ●    Stay dry?

    Using the Biomimicry Taxonomy in AskNature

    AskNature offers two ways for you to ask questions of nature: Search and Explore. Explore enables you to quickly find strategies by function using a table of contents organized by the Biomimicry Taxonomy. With Search, you can ask questions like those posed above - for example, "How does nature stay dry?"

    Download this one-page visual of the Biomimicry Taxonomy (PDF 776kB) for easy reference to support your exploration of AskNature biological content.