From Shrews to Fractals?

by Elouise

Romanesco Broccoli

I did not make this up.

He, sitting at the breakfast table, in a pleasantly talkative mood this morning.

  • Did you know shrews are the smallest mammal in the world?

She, sitting across the table, never in a talkative mood in the morning, but pleasant about it.

  • Oh! That’s interesting.


  • Yes, and did you know their size is related to how long they live?


  • No, I didn’t. But the one Smudge cornered in our kitchen didn’t live long, did it?

He, after a kind chuckle, warming up to his subject. [Remember, I did not ask about shrews or longevity.]

  • Actually, those two things are very important. Their size and how long they live. They have to eat constantly because their size and the number of heartbeats they have per minute means their metabolism is super fast and if they don’t get enough food they’ll die.
  • You know they already don’t live very long, don’t you? [Yes, I do know this and, in fact, told him about this when I googled shrews and discovered 90% of them are fast food for predators.]
  • Well, there’s a connection there. The less food you have to eat, the longer you’ll live. Like those giant turtles. That also means your heartbeat is slower.

She, always able to come up with connections that have nothing to do with the intended message:

  • So you’re telling me I’m going to die sooner than you because I have a higher metabolism and a faster heartbeat and have to eat more often than you do????
  • And why is this so interesting to you?


  • Because it’s all about fractals!


  • Fractals? [The moment it’s out of her mouth she wishes she hadn’t asked.]


  • Yes! Fractals! You know, like that broccoli.
  • You don’t know what I’m talking about?
  • I have ties with fractal art. Lots of them!

D runs off to get some ties and show me fractal art on his ties.

He returns. Sadly, he seems to have given away most of his fractal art ties. Instead, he goes online and finds that broccoli he was talking about. Then he goes back to the tie search and finds two ties with fractal art—both in a paisley print.

I am now informed. I do not, however, have an answer to why shrews and fractals were so exciting to D on this particular day. As it turns out, he’s watching a set of lectures on Chaos Theory, and fractals are a form of chaos! (No argument from me about that one!)

See, it all made sense. Sort of.

At exactly 9:14am I received an email from D with the photo above and the following concise explanation:

Perfect example of a fractal structure in nature.

All the smaller parts repeat the configuration of the larger. So the big spikes are made up of smaller spikes that look almost identical to the larger, and those smaller are made up again of smaller spikes. Goes down a couple of levels.

Now I can’t say I don’t understand fractals.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 August 2015
Photo credit: Romanesco Broccoli, from