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Animals have superpowers too


Animals have superpowers too

So far, superheroes are only fictional. But some of their powers already exist in the world, possessed by a whole range of strange species. Some creatures have even more amazing, surprising, weird, funny or disgusting powers than any superhero.

Sure, some animals can leap the equivalent of a tall building in a single bound. But others have ultra-strong faces, crazy loud voices, toxic blood, the ability to devour virtually anything, and indestructibility. Can you guess what the penis bug’s superpower is? Here are some of the less-celebrated but truly awesome animal superpowers.


Superpower: Heat Sensing
Pit vipers (several species, including Cryptelytrops albolabris, above)
Pit vipers, as well as some pythons and boas, can sense the body heat of their prey from several feet away. Small pit organs on the snakes’ faces detect infrared radiation, allowing them to create a thermal profile of, say, a nearby mouse.

Nerves connect the pit organs to the brain’s somatosensory system, which processes the sense of touch, suggesting that the snakes literally feel the heat. In 2010, scientists identified the heat-sensing receptor molecule. The human version of this receptor is thought to be responsible for the mild burn that comes with swigging carbonated drinks, as well as the stronger burn of wasabi.

Image: Thomas Brown/Flickr (viper)/David Julius lab, via Nature (mouse)


Superpower: Incredible Mimicry
Lyrebird (Menura)
The Australian lyrebird loves to sing songs to woo its mates. The male’s courtship display includes beautiful tunes that each individual creates, mixed in with a bunch of stolen sounds from its environment. Because they have the most complexly-muscled vocal chords of any songbird, lyrebirds can reproduce an insane variety of sounds both natural and artificial, including chainsaws, car engines, barking dogs, and human voices. If you ever get bitten by a radioactive lyrebird, you can probably expect a Top 40 pop career while moonlighting as a masked vigilante fighting crime with the power of voice.

Image: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos/Wikimedia


Superpower: Loud Lovesongs
Water Boatman, aka Singing Penis Bug (Micronecta scholtzi)
The loudest animal on Earth, relative to its body size, is the water boatman. Singing songs of love from its perch on a river bottom, a male boatman can be as loud as an orchestra.

Turns out, the sweet serenade comes from the bug’s penis.

Water boatmen “sing” by rubbing their penises along abdominal grooves, a process called stridulation. Their resulting melodies can reach 100 decibels and can be heard through the water by people walking along the riverbank.

Not bad for a bug the size of a grain of rice, eh?

Photo: Jerome Sueur


Superpower: Invisibility
Cuttlefish (Sepiida)
There’s nothing to see here. Nope.

In reality, the yellow thing in the photo above is a cuttlefish doing its best to impersonate an aquarium plant. Shapeshifting masters of camouflage, cuttlefish can rapidly blend in with the scenery to avoid predators. They can disguise themselves to look like just about anything aquatic, assuming a vast array of postures and colors — the latter being the result of pigment-containing sacs in their skin. A cuttlefish can control the size of the sac, called a chromatophore, and change color accordingly.

The end result is a spooky feat of invisibility that’s much more successful than James Bond’s car.

Image: Justine Allen, Marine Biological Laboratory


Superpower: HORROR
Hairy Frog (Trichobatrachus robustus)
When threatened, the hairy frog breaks its own bones, then pushes them through its skin to make claws. Kind of like Wolverine, except not quite.

Photo: Gustavocarra/WikiMedia


Superpower: Sneaky Stealth
Various animals
Though true invisibility remains the stuff of comics, many creatures have evolved the ability to sneak up on their prey with eerily silent stealth. Among the best known are owls, which can swoop down on field mice with nary a sound fluttering from their wings. Though no one knows exactly how the special shape of their wings and feathers eliminate aerodynamic noise, scientists are studying the ability to better mitigate loud aircraft sounds.

Another aerial predator, the Western Barbastelle bat, has also figured out how to remain invisible to the moths it eats: the creatures whisper their echolocation to avoid detection. The species’ echolocation pinging is 10 to 100 times lower in amplitude than their bat-cousins, preventing prey from being alerted to their presence. Underwater, the scariest thing to encounter (if you’re a tiny plankton) is the North American comb jelly. While these squishy ctenophores don’t seem formidable, they voraciously chow down on zooplankton. The comb jelly (below) uses tiny hairs inside its mouth to generate a gentle current that makes it hydrodynamically invisible to zooplankton, which remain completely oblivious until they are devoured.

Images: rayand/Flickr


Superpower: Iron Stomach
Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta)
Hyenas can eat pretty much anything. Their powerful jaws can crush bone, and they can consume up to a third of their body weight in meat in a single meal. Fresh kills, rotting corpses — it’s all good. They’ve even been known to consume anthrax-ridden cattle carcasses without ill effects. But even this super stomach has its kryptonite: Hyenas can’t digest hair, hooves, and horns. Those bits get barfed up in pellets.

Image: lydurs/Flickr



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