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Exhibition: Shields and Lances

Madrid, 15 October 2003

Madrid, 15 October 2003. One of the basic survival rules for living beings is “Eat and do not be eaten.” To this end, plants, human beings and animals adopt different camouflage and defence tactics: blending with the environment in order to go unnoticed, expelling poisonous substances, living in symbiotic association for mutual protection or, simply, escaping at high speed. Another defence mechanism involves the development of different protective structures, either external skeletons (shields) or pointed elements such as horns or thorns (lances). CosmoCaixa, the science museum of ”la Caixa” Foundation in Alcobendas, Madrid, examines the self-protection techniques adopted by living beings in the exhibition Shields and Lances.

Shells, shields, horns and thorns are some of the self-defence mechanisms used by living beings throughout history in their struggle for survival. Rhinoceroses, cactuses, pineapples, armadillos and turtles all illustrate this thesis.

One of the most common self-protection measures is the body’s development of a tough structure, shield or exoskeleton, which may be of an altogether varied composition: bone, calcium carbonate, chitin or other materials. Rigid shields or carapaces (turtles or bivalve molluscs) have one or two pieces and, while they do not have any weak points, are very heavy. Articulated shields (scaly anteaters or sow bugs) are nonetheless composed of several pieces and allow a certain mobility.

The bodies of the giant armadillos, which originated in South America and migrated to North America during the Pliocene Age (between 5 and 2 million years ago), were totally covered in “armour”, even their heads, legs and tails. Over two metres long and up to two tonnes in weight, these now extinguished mammals were very similar in appearance to the Volkswagen Beetle.

Needles, horns and other pointed structures are other systems employed by animals and vegetables to protect themselves from would-be predators. Simple lances, antlers or horns (deer, beetles, etc) tend to be present in the males and, in many cases, have a purely decorative function. The triceratops, one of most characteristic dinosaurs of the Cretaceous Period, had one horn over its snout and two above the eye sockets, which it used for self-defence and ostentation.

Thorns act as a very frequent deterrent in the plant world. The rose and the cactus are fine examples of this. It is a passive defence mechanism, yet one that is very effective. Often thorns cover the entire body of the being, especially when complemented by a spherical surface and, occasionally, they release urticant or poisonous substances. Animals like the hedgehog and the globefish also adopt this strategy and manmade lances and arrows imitate the structure and function of these natural lances.

Beginning on 15 October, CosmoCaixa, the science museum of ”la Caixa” Foundation in Alcobendas, Madrid, will host Shields and Lances, a detailed exploration of the tactics for protection, ostentation and self-defence used by living beings throughout evolution. Admission is free of charge. Visitors can view samples of all the species we have mentioned, and many more.

Exhibition: Shields and Lances
Official opening: 15 October 2003, 7:30 PM
Location: CosmoCaixa. Pintor Velázquez s/n. 28100 Alcobendas. Madrid
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10:00 AM- 8:00 PM
Price: Admission free of charge. CosmoCaixa admission fee: 1 – 3 euros
Information telephone number: 91 484 52 00


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