As part of the Wild Art 2021 July Challenge, put on by Zoe Keller, I illustrated two pieces focusing on the theme, “Patterns”. Each month, I am going to focus on two pieces – one highlighting flora, the other highlighting fauna. This month, I focus on a specific recurring pattern of the natural world. Can you guess the pattern?
In the year 1202, Leonardo Pisano Bigollo, a mathematician and trader, wrote a series of math books. In one, he included a word problem where you had to find the number of rabbits that would reproduce in a given time, in an enclosed space under certain conditions. The answer to this problem is found in what is known today as the Fibonacci Sequence.
This sequence is one of proportional and exponential growth. The sequence is as follows (and if you notice, every number after equals the sum of the two numbers prior in the sequence…) 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc…. Once you find the pattern, you can continue the sequence forever!
The Fibonacci Spiral, is a visual graph of this sequence. At the center of the spiral is a 1 unit box next to a 1 unit box. Those boxes are next to a box that’s 2 units large. All of those are next to a box who is 3 units large. Around and around this goes in a spiral, growing larger in exactly the same proportions.
This ratio and spiral can be seen all over the world, in art (people are aesthetically drawn to things that have the Fibonacci Spiral), math (in word problems like the one posed in 1202), anatomy (our closed fist makes a Fibonacci Spiral), and even in the natural world! Some of the best examples of this spiral seen in nature is in Sunflower seed heads, Succulents, and the Chambered Nautilus.
In the botanical world, there is a whole field of study (Phyllotaxy) devoted to recognizing and understanding patterns. In Phyllotaxy, scientists recognize the arrangement of leaves on stems and the recurring patterns found. In many plants, even in trees with how branches connect to the trunk and leaves connect to the branches, a Fibonacci spiral can be found. In other plants, such as succulents, pinecones, and fern fiddleheads, more spiral patterns can be seen.
In the animal world, we can still find the Fibonacci Spiral! The Chambered Nautilus, when looking at a cross section of it’s shell, is filled with sections that help control buoyancy, called camerae. As the Nautiulus outgrows the shell space, it adds a new section onto the spiral. These sections are the exact proportion as the Fibonacci Sequence. If the marine animal could grow forever, the spiraled shell would become larger and larger exponentially! All new camerae would be the size of the two previous sections.
While the Chambered Nautilus is a perfect example of the Fibonacci Spiral, we can find other examples on our own bodies! Close your fist and make sure that your thumb curls around the bottom of your pointer finger. You can start at where the tip of your pointer finger nail touches your palm and draw a spiral around until you get to your thumbnail. This is a Fibonacci Spiral!
But…. why does this recurring pattern happen so often in the natural world? As plants and animals grow, spiral shapes allow for maximum growth, while staying compact and secure. There is no wasted space in a spiral. In the natural world, the proper allocation of energy and resources is vital. Wasted space that would require extra energy to build or to move around with can hurt the chances of survival. In plants, it can increase the amount of plant matter available to do photosynthesis, while keeping the overall size (and therefore reducing energy waste) to a minimum.
Everywhere you look, the natural world provides endless hours of fascination! Where can you find the Fibonacci spiral during your outdoor adventures? Let me know in the comments or feel free to share on social media (Facebook/Instagram/Email).
Stay tuned next month to learn more about how animals use various structures in nature (whether plant OR animal based!) as their protection and nesting sites with the “Home” theme!
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