Natures Very Own Jigsaws

As an online jigsaw puzzle platform, we know all about tessellation.  It’s a word that describes the way repeating patterns can fit together to make larger regular shapes and jigsaw puzzles are made up of any number of them, and the classic jigsaw piece pattern is familiar to the majority of people.  The computer programming we have to do to make online jigsaw puzzles look just like their real world counterparts is worthy of a blog in itself (on second thoughts I think I’ll spare you that one – suffice to say it really is one for the maths geeks), but have you ever wondered where the inspiration of making larger structures from interlocking pieces of the same shape comes from.

In the jigsaw world we can trace the first recorded jigsaw back to one John Spilsbury in England, who in the 1760’s stuck a map of the world on to a piece of wood and cut it in to pieces as a way of helping children learn how the countries of the world relate to one another.  The shape we know of now as the classic jigsaw piece shape didn’t come about until a little later, and was probably created before the maths (which now we use for online jigsaw puzzles) to describe that particular shape even came about.  But the idea of shapes that can be used as repeating patterns had been around for a long time, most notably in the mosaics and tiling patterns we could see in the ruins of ancient civilisations such as Rome and Greece.

However, even though we have a habit of thinking we’re very clever and we come up with original ideas, tessellation is just one more example of nature getting there first, way before anyone had the bright idea of fitting together lots of small pieces of the same shape to make something bigger.

Nature Figure Out Jigsaws Pieces Long Before We Did

We see this is all around is nature, in plants, animals and even rock formations on the planet surface.  Bees create honeycombs, fish and snakes grow scales, turtles grow patterned shells and crocodiles grow armored skin – all with tessellated patterns.  Trees and plants seem to come in all shapes and sizes, but look more closely and you’ll see hundreds of example of the larger structure being made up of smaller repeating patterns.  Don’t believe me?  Take a closer look at the segments of an orange, the face of a sunflower or the outside texture of a pineapple.

We even see patterns appearing in rock formations.  When cooling lava from volcanoes cools quickly, particularly when it comes in to contact with water, it often contracts into regular shapes.  The Giants Causeway in Ireland is a really clear example of this effect.

So whenever you’re playing one of our free online jigsaw puzzles  or mulling over a puzzle on your coffee table at home, just remember where the inspiration for such seemingly simple idea probably came from and it makes you realise we do in fact live on a whole jigsaw planet.

To see more examples of tessellations in nature, take a look at these:

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