While conducting a polar bear survey, a young Berkeley engineering student decided that trying to find white bears against white snow was too difficult, so she had the ingenious idea of spotting them with infrared scanners. It's the same thing the military uses to track movements of enemy vehicles: The scanner detects the heat radiating from an object, so picking out a live animal should be a piece of cake in a frozen wasteland like the Arctic.
"You cannot see me. I am a hidebear."
Strangely, this only made the problem worse when they found that the bears were completely invisible to thermal imagery. The bears were seriously like mud-covered Schwarzeneggers to our Predator.
When scientists zoomed right in, they found that they could see parts of the bears' faces and their breath on the infrared imaging, but nothing else. It turned out that the polar bear's secret power was all of its extra blubber. Blubber is an amazing insulator (it actually becomes more efficient as the outside environment becomes colder), and on a polar bear, it's almost 4 inches thick and can weigh up to 1,500 pounds.
"Man, fuck you, I've been exercising!"
Because the bears evolved to insulate themselves against the frigid cold, they don't give off enough heat to register on our sensitive heat-sensing equipment. This means that they're the only animal that is invisible not only to the naked eye, but to robots as well.
For our endless vanity, human beings spend a lot of energy trying to keep stains away from our stuff. If you've ever dropped a glass of red wine on your carpet or coffee on your shirt, you know there's a whole industry dedicated to keeping fabrics and liquids apart. And if you want state of the art, these days the word you're looking for is "hydrophobic," the buzz word for expensive fabrics that actively repel liquids.
But once again, this is old hat for Mother Nature. For example, this is what happens when you drip water onto a lotus leaf:
Or urinate on it, as in this case.
These leaves have what is awesomely known as superhydrophobicity, which means that, instead of getting wet, water just bounces off them like bullets off Superman's chest. And they use this as their own built-in dry cleaning service. When rain falls on the leaves, the water washes off all the dirt and debris without actually getting anything damp, maximizing the leaf's exposure to sunlight.
It's not just plants that have mastered waterproofing technology. Butterflies use superhydrophobicity on their wings, so they expend literally zero energy on cleaning, leaving them free for important butterfly work like gathering pollen and being magical. But the true master of the art would have to be the water skeeter:
Which RPG makers saw and immediately said, "Let's make a giant one of those that we can ride."
Their legs are so waterproof that they can actually walk on water as easily as we can walk on pavement. And their bodies repel water so efficiently that, even when a water skeeter is hit with a raindrop greater than the size of its body, it's completely immune from getting wet.
Scientists are looking into how to replicate the technology nature has already mastered so that we can make clothes, paints, and buildings stain-proof. So if you're a dry cleaner or a window cleaner, you might want to look into updating your resume. Thanks for the shitty economy, science.
For more ways we just plain aren't cooler than nature, check out 6 Modern Technologies Animals Invented Millions of Years Ago and 5 Advanced Technologies Still Catching Up to Invertebrates.