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Why the Wheels Won't Go

Michael LaBarbera
The American Naturalist
Vol. 121, No. 3 (Mar., 1983), pp. 395-408
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2461157
Page Count: 14
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Why the Wheels Won't Go
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Abstract

The scarcity of rotating systems in nature is a function primarily of the limited utility of such systems in natural environments; constraints intrinsic to biological systems (such as physiological problems of nutrient supply) are of secondary importance. In aquatic environments, rotating systems are advantageous only at low Reynolds numbers; in terrestrial environments, rotating systems are feasible as a form of transportation only on relatively flat, open terrain and become less useful as the size of the rotating element decreases. Prokaryotic flagella are popularly believed to be the only rotating system in nature, but dung beetles and tumbleweeds also use such systems for transportation. Whenever rotating systems are a feasible mode of transportation, organisms have evolved that use these systems.

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