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ZQ25

Nature, Where Art Thou? Adelheid Fischer

sparse, saddleback designs evolved. These flatter carapaces were shaped like saddles with a large opening in the front that allowed the exceptionally long necks of these arid-zone tortoises to reach up into the branches of tree-form cactus and nip off their succulent pads, flowers and fruits. But if you had to award a prize for most creative adaptation, the winners would likely be the archipelago’s thirteen species of endemic finches. These birds are descendants of Melanospiza richardsonii, a species from St. Lucia in the Caribbean. Over generations, the finches have evolved beak designs that allow them to exploit different food sources. Some feed exclusively on seeds, others on flowers and leaves. Others became more entrepreneurial in their food choices. Some finches have learned to use tools, stabbing twigs into the holes of dead trees and then feasting on the impaled prey. Others obtain their meals by becoming vampires and drinking the blood of seabirds or gleaning ticks from the bodies of tortoises. The legendary tameness of the animals which so impressed early visitors like de Berlanga and Darwin still persists, making it possible for visitors to carefully observe them. During our stay, we tiptoed around marine iguanas sprawled in the middle of downtown sidewalks, sopping up warmth

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from the concrete in preparation for one of their frigid ocean dives. We stood on the sidelines as tortoises lumbered across fields of grass and melted into mud wallows like a bone-tired man easing his aching body into a tub of warm water. At breakfast, in mid-conversation, our forks poised mid-air, we watched as finches filched breadcrumbs from our plates. These close encounters were startling and inspiring for the biomimicry studio participants. The shape of the tortoise shell, for example, provided the architecture students with an idea for a beautiful, low-tech and inexpensive construction technology: creating building forms by casting concrete over earthen mounds. Their design proposal—a series of low, shell-like structures combined with the gentle undulation of excavated wallows in the landscape—mimicked the shape of the resident tortoises and their own style of ecosystem engineering on the site. The final design—an intentional blend of tortoise and human earth-moving—promised to serve the needs of both reptiles and people. The students came away from their visit to the Galápagos with a useful and pleasing bio-inspired design. In the process, they were transformed. They watched a tortoise the size of a wheelbarrow go about its business in the wild. They waded into the

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