Patterns in Nature

What patterns do you see when you go outside?

04-25-2012 // Elizabeth Scholl
apple stars
    What do you picture when you think of patterns in nature? A striped zebra, spotted ladybug, or maybe a speckled bird's egg? Stripes and spots may be the first patterns that come to mind, but how about the five-pointed star inside an apple you see when you cut it open or the spiral of a spider's web?
    Patterns in nature are everywhere, whether you live in a city, in the country, or anywhere in between. If you have a keen eye, you can discover patterns growing out of sidewalk cracks, in trees, on the ground, or even in the grocery store. You can find patterns on plants, animals, insects, rocks, and in water.

Why Patterns?

In the animal world, patterns help identify members of a group, attract mates, or camouflage an animal to hide from prey while hunting. Zebra's long, vertical stripes help them blend in with long grass on the Savannah. While their black and white stripes seem like a big contrast to the green and brown grasslands they live on, a herd of zebra appears as one giant mass to a color blind lion. 

Patterns help plants survive too. The colors and shapes of flower petals help attract the right kind of pollinators. For instance, while bees can't see the colors red and orange, hummingbirds are attracted to red and orange flowers. Simple, saucer-shaped flowers, like magnolias and poppies, attract ants and hover-flies, while more complex, tube-shaped flowers, like cardinal flowers, attract pollinators with long tongues that can reach inside the flower to get at the nectar, like butterflies and hummingbirds.

The next time you go outside, see if you can find some patterns in your neighborhood.

Places to look for Patterns in Nature:

  • park
  • front or back yard
  • grocery store
  • farmer's market
  • zoo
  • garden
  • plants growing inside a building, shopping mall, house, or apartment
  • pet store
  • an aquarium
  • pond, lake, fountain, stream, river, or ocean
  • the sky

Patterns in Nature Scavenger Hunt

Can you spot something with spots?

Some houseplants have spots or speckled leaves. Lots of animals, from Dalmatians to ladybugs to birds, have spots. You may even see a butterfly with large "eye spots" that help it scare away predators. 

Every which way stripes.

Stripes are not just for tigers. They come in all shapes and sizes--thin like a blade of grass or the ring of a tree trunk. They can be bold like the stripes on a snake, straight, wavy, vertical, horizontal, and diagonal. Look in the water, in a sunny spot for a shadow, or on a rock in a park.  

Something spiraling around.

Look for pine cones on the ground, sunflowers at a market, a ram's horns at the zoo, or a shell at the beach.

Are you seeing stars?

Discover the star inside of an apple cut horizontally or check out a star fruit in a grocery store or Asian market. If you're lucky enough to visit an aquarium, you can see a star fish. If you are in a garden this spring, look for a flower that has a five-pointed star pattern.

Have a heart.

Heart shapes are quite common in the plant world. You may see heart-shaped flowers on a Bleeding Heart plant in early spring. Many leaves look like hearts. You can find heart-shaped leaves on common indoor plants like philodendrons.

For more nature pattern fun, try these easy activities:

Leaf or Bark Rubbings                                 Jumping Nature Print

Leaf Print                 Leaf Print

Be Out There logo

Elizabeth School is a New Jersey-based writer of children's books and magazine articles, with a background in elementary education. Specializing in nature and environmental topics, her books include Organic Gardening for Kids, Grasshopper, Praying Mantis, and Animals Attack: Wolves. When she isn't writing, Elizabeth enjoys working in her garden, bicycling and exploring nature in her neighborhood..

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