Patterns in nature

Have you ever looked at the center of a sunflower or a pine cone and thought there seems to be a pattern hidden in the design? There is in fact, a fascinating pattern built into our natural world. It can be seen in the petals and seed heads of flowers, the spiral of shells and hurricanes, tree branches, even animal and human bodies! In taking a closer look at nature, this shared pattern begins to be seen everywhere. Is this just coincidence or has a reoccurring pattern been created for nature?

A pattern was identified over 800 years ago, not by someone studying nature, but rather by an Italian merchant and mathematician named Leonardo Pisano Bigollo. He is better known today as Fibonacci (loosely translated as “son of Bonacci”) due to a misinterpretation by scholars centuries after his death. While writing his book Liber Abaci, which introduced the Hindu-Arabic notations (0-9) to the Western Latin-speaking world still used to this day, he stumbled onto a pattern as a solution to a hypothetical calculation. So, instead of being known for the monumental achievement of helping to popularize our modern numbering system, he has been immortalized by this pattern and so we call it the Fibonacci sequence.

The sequence of numbers Fibonacci discovered begins 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55 and goes on indefinitely. It is found by adding the preceding two digits together to get the next number in the sequence. Additionally, all numbers five and above in the sequence can be divided by the preceding, smaller, number to get 1.6, which is called the golden ratio. This ratio is visualized by a spiral that is frequently expressed throughout nature such as in the structure of a shell, shape of a hurricane or our own fingers when making a fist.

Why does this pattern show up so frequently in nature? It actually serves a useful purpose. In order to be successful plants and animals need to maximize the use of their resources. By utilizing the golden ratio and the numbers in the Fibonacci sequence, available space and energy can be used more efficiently in order to gain the most benefit. Many plants try to produce the greatest amount of seeds and/or leaves they have the resources to create and the golden ratio helps accomplish this.

Even our own human bodies express the golden ratio! For example, the length of a hand from finger tips to wrist compares to the length of a forearm from wrist to elbow at a ratio of 1:1.6 and so does the distance from top of the head to bellybutton compared with navel to floor. The molecules of our DNA structure follow the golden ratio too!

A number of other animals also exhibit the golden ratio in their body structure. It can be found in dolphins, the dimensions of some bird eggs, and the main body and segmented legs of honeybees. The Fibonacci sequence is actually exhibited in the population dynamics of honeybee colonies. Male honeybees, called drones, hatch from unfertilized eggs and thus only have one female parent. The sequence is demonstrated when looking back at previous generations (see illustration).The female individuals in a hive always outnumber the males and if the number of females is divided by the number of males the result is very close to the golden ratio.

Come find examples of the Fibonnaci sequnce and patterns while hiking with a naturalist on Saturday, September 30 from 1:30-3 p.m. at North Mississippi Regional Park. Or stop by anytime to check out a free activity backpack about insects or borrow a pair of binoculars, and then take a walk around the park and see what you encounter in nature. Join us for a new Friday play group series -Nature Nuts- for parents and children under age five! And with the new school year starting, don’t forget to sign kids up for release day programs full of nature exploration. Find registration for these programs and more at or call 612-370-4844 for details.

September Free Public Programs (all ages): Sept. 2 – Early Birding: Search for birds while on a naturalist-guided hike, 9-10:30 a.m.; Sept. 10 – Family Funday Pollination Celebration: Hike the park in search of pollinators, 1:30-3 p.m.; Sept 16 – Nature Art Plant Creations: Use a variety of plant materials to create art, 1:30-2:30 p.m.; and Sept. 23 – Insects Above and Below: Find out how insects can live in so many different habitats, 1-2:30 p.m

Minneapolis Monarch Festival ~Festival de la Monarca: Celebrate the monarch butterfly’s amazing migration from Minnesota to Mexico at Lake Nokomis Park on Saturday, Sept. 9 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. with art, music, dance, games, native plants, prairie tours and food –

Like us on Facebook to stay in the loop about what is happening at your park!

Written by Kelley Ekstrom, Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Naturalist at North Mississippi Regional Park