#20 Iron Kid

10 Points

Be like Iron Man and make your own bodysuit defence system! Get inspired by the awesome armour of Aotearoa’s trees and the excellent exoskeletons of our insects and crabs.

Read the instructions

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What to do

Your mission is:

Construct your own body armour using defence systems inspired by NZ plants and nature. Check out the notes (above) for the tool list and get ironed up!

1. IRON MAN INSPIRATION

Marvel super-hero Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) is famous for his hi-tech suit of armour. He transforms from a businessman into a superhero when he puts on a special super-powered suit.   

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2. SEARCH AND RESEARCH

There’s a whole lot of natural inspiration for your body armour right outside! Take a leaf from the Lord of the Forest Tane Mahuta’s book – bark can be very powerful protection. Other native plants have thorns and spikes!

Animals like insects and koura (shellfish) have exoskeletons (a hard shell on the outside) to help protect their insides.

Check out the tabs on this page to get the creative juices flowing – nature has a solution for everything! 

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3. BUSH AMBUSH

Trees and shrubs have a whole bunch of ways to protect themselves – from thorny spikes to tough bark (they reckon this lancewood/horoeka tree has spiky leaves to warn moa from eating them!)

Check out the plants and trees in your neighbourhood, and imagine what threats they might be defending against: cats, birds, insects, rats, people, disease… 

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4. IRON WOOD CASTLE

An awesome armour inspiration is the rata and pohutukawa (the NZ Christmas tree); they're called 'Meterosideros' (that's Latin for 'iron-wood'), because their wood is super hard. The defence is so good that rata can live for more than 1000 years!!

This rata that Oli is climbing is over five metres wide! Hard out!

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5. ARMOUR ASSEMBLY

Design and build your own body armour prototype using anything you can get your hands on: cardboard, plastic bottles, tape, tree branches, bark, foam mat – whatever you need to make the ultimate super-suit! Check out what’s lurking in your recycling – a pizza box might make a great exoskeletal shell!

Or make a papier mâché mask that mimics the best bark, thorn and shell native defence systems ...

 

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6. SUIT UP!

Get someone to take a photo of you decked out in your outfit of awesomeness and upload it to the Wild Eyes website.

Become Tony Stark Jr and fight the forces of evil as an NZ nature-inspired Iron Kid! Like this suit made out of fallen gum and cabbage tree bark!

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OR GO OUT ON A LIMB

If you’re after a suit of insect armor but you find out that it'll require a whole Weta Workshop* to make it (i.e. a lot of time, materials and helpers), maybe focus on making one amazing arm or legendary leg. (*Wellington's Weta Workshop made all the armour and costumes for the Lord of the Rings films.) 

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OR MAKE AN ANTI-MOA MASK

Get at the front of the Wild Eyes' Staff Pick queue by making a suit or mask defending you against being eaten from the moa you discovered in 'Fake a Giant Moa Discovery'!

Check out the 'divaricating' thorny leaves Stella has used on her anti-moa mask (to find out what 'divaricating' means check out the 'What's Happening' tab).

What's happening?

BARKING MAD

The bark is an outer protective layer for the tree, just like your skin is for you. A tree’s tough bark guards against attacks from weather, insects, animals, and disease. The thin layer just underneath the bark is called the 'cambium': where living, growing cells live which makes the tree grow thicker over time – like your muscles if you climb a lot of trees! 

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– This kākā parrot is helpfully giving us a look beyond the bark, but be careful: a tree can survive without some bark, but strip too much and it will die!

DAD DOG JOKE

Q. What do you do if your dog goes missing in the forest?

A. Put your ear to a tree and listen for the bark!!

NO MOA MEALS

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– A sketch of three types of moa and a divaricating shrub

In New Zealand, trees evolved with unique plant-munchers e.g. the mighty moa, so they had to protect themselves!

We have more divaricating shrubs and trees (think: wiry branches with tiny small leaves hidden amidst them) than anywhere else in the world, and scientists reckon they’re like this to try and keep off the moa’s menu. 

It was mo much effort for the moa to eat the leaves.

Trees with swords?

Another type of defense is sharp, spiky leaves. The lancewood is a good example. Its leaves are long and spiky when they’re young (like a lance) until they get to about three metres tall.

With the tasty treats now safely out of a giant moa’s reach, the lancewood can finally relax and spread out, and let its leaves get wider and brighter to photosynthesize (get energy from the sun) and help the tree grow.  

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– Wanna get spiked in the face eating your brekkie?? Neither did a moa!

SHE'LL BE RIGHT

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– 'Koura' is Māori for crayfish

Animals also have awesome defence systems. We humans wear our bones on the inside of our bodies (called an endoskeleton). But insects and other animals like koura (like this crayfish), snails, grasshoppers and crabs have a hard, external skeleton called an exoskeleton, which is like a full body helmet that supports and protects an animal's guts.

For insects it also stops their internal organs from drying out, attaches to the insect’s muscles and lets them gather info about their environment… Exo-lent!

PROB'LY WOBBLY

As well as endoskeleton and exoskeleton, there’s also zero skeleton! Octopuses, jelly fish and worms have no bones at all, and instead use the water or soil they live in to support their bodies. 

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– Dem bones, dem bones, dem ... no bones!

Inspiration

A POISONOUS POINT

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– Home to a butterfly, stings like a bee ...

Think about licking a cactus. Please don’t actually lick one – but imagine what that would feel like! Not very pleasant, right? That’s cos prickles are an awesome way of keeping unwanted tongues away. NZ has some deviously prickly plants. You can easily pop a balloon with a bush lawyer thorn. (Maybe don't make your thorns on your Iron Kid armor this sharp – we don't want anybody to lose an eye…!)

Skin contact with the hairs of ongaonga stinging nettle (pictured) is very painful. The toxins they release have even killed dogs and horses. 

LORD OF THE RINGS

When the Lord of the Rings movies were being made in New Zealand, a company called KayneMail produced lightweight plastic chain-mail armour for the protection of all the warriors going into battle at Helm's Deep.

Did you know that many NZ plants make their branches into a twisty, thorny, tangled mess to protect themselves from being eaten – they're like nature’s chain-mail! Check out the meuhlenbeckia in the photo below.

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– Get chained up for battle (and remember to brush your your teeth!)

Trampoline trees

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– bouncy bush 

Some plants have defences that are so tough and springy that they’re like a trampoline e.g. the chain-mail-like meuhlenbeckia (which we were just talking about), and matagouri if you’re down south. Try it out for yourself (but check for spikes first on the matagouri!)!

Do you reckon the moa would've had flip competitions?

SHEDDING THE LOAD

Our giant kauri and rimu trees’ bark looks like it’s been hit by a hammer: this is cos bits of it flake off. Scientists reckon this might be to do with protecting itself from being weighed down by ‘widowmakers’ (clumps of stowaway plants that grow on them, which can overload branches when wet).

Shedding some bark is a bit like a lizard ditching its tail when caught by a predator. 

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– Kauri bark, has a good reason for looking beat

CICADA COSTUME CHANGE

In the crawlies version, an insect’s exoskeleton doesn't grow with them so they have to shed it to grow – just like how you probably don’t fit your childhood onesie anymore! Check out this video where the legendary David Attenborough watches a cicada change its costume.

EXO-LENT FACTS

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– Did you know that all king crabs are right-handed? They use one claw for cutting and the other for crushing...

Animals with exoskeletons (especially land-based ones) can’t grow very big because the weight of their exoskeleton would restrict their movement too much. One of the largest animals with an exoskeleton is the king crab (pictured being held by NIWA scientist Dr Shane Ahyong), which grows a shell that’s bigger than your dinner plate!

Compare this with one of the largest animals with an endoskeleton – the blue whale – which grows to the size of a basketball court!

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