Five comic-book superpowers that animals actually have

superdogEvolution has been occurring for billions of years, producing organisms that are perfectly adapted to their environments. And this includes abilities that we would normally consider superpowers if humans were to have them. But these powers really do exist in the animal kingdom.

1. Echolocation

Youtube Embed:

http://www.youtube.com/embed/p08Y0oRAX3g

Width: 560px

Height: 315px

In the superhero world, Matt Murdock, who was blinded by radioactive waste as a child, developed a superhuman ability to sense using sound waves and became the superhero Daredevil. This gives Daredevil a 360-degree field of vision, allowing him to precisely locate objects or people in all directions, an obvious advantage over normal vision.

Bats, despite being nocturnal animals, cannot see in the dark. Instead they have evolved a similar ability known as useecholocationto navigate and locate prey at night. The bat emits a very high frequency sound and listens for the echo that bounces off objects. The difference in time between emitting the sound and hearing the echo allows the bat to build up a mental picture of its environment. Sounds that take longer to bounce back indicate that the surroundings are further away.

Matt Murdock’s ability may not be too far from realityas humans can also learn to use echolocation. By making clicking noises or stomping their feet some visually impaired people are able to accurately visualize their surroundings.

2. Magnetic Sense

Youtube Embed:

http://www.youtube.com/embed/Wl0Ii29XmNk

Width: 560px

Height: 315px

The X-Men’s arch-villain Magneto can sense and manipulate magnetic fields with his mind. And some animals have a similar magnetic sense known as magneto-reception that they use to navigate and orient themselves. For example, homing pigeons are able to navigate back to their home lofts when visual cues are missing but can’t do so when magnets are nearby. This suggests that they may use the Earth’smagnetic field to navigate.

Although we don’t understand exactly how they do this, pigeons have been found to possess a substance called magnetite in their beaks, which becomes magnetized whenexposed to magnetic fields. So they may be following their nose, so to speak.

Of course, Magneto’s magnetic powers can produce a much wider range of effects, from lifting and manipulating metal objects to rearranging matter (a power definitely not seen in animals). However, his daughter Polaris has the ability to perceive the world as patterns of magnetic energy, which actually isn’t too dissimilar to the powers present in the animal kingdom.

3. Shape-shifting

Youtube Embed:

http://www.youtube.com/embed/t-LTWFnGmeg

Width: 560px

Height: 315px

The ability to shape-shift and mimic the form of others is a formidable power for a superhero or villain and has been used by XMen’s Mystique on many occasions to lure and manipulate her foes. A rare few animals are capable of changing their shape and size in the real world, most notablythe mimic octopus.

It can alter its colour, behavior, shape and texture to mimic a diverse range of species, with at least 13 examplesrecorded so farincluding sea snakes, jellyfish and sea anemones. Most of the impersonated species are poisonous, and so pretending to be them helps the octopus ward off predators. But this shape-shifter is also able to imitate its prey, possibly in an attempt to lure them in closer before feasting on them.

4. Absorbing powers

Youtube Embed:

http://www.youtube.com/embed/Zj6O8WJ3qtE

Width: 560px

Height: 315px

The ability to steal the superpowers of another individual is surely the ultimate power, enabling you to have any power in existence. XMen’s Rogue has the incredible ability to absorb superpowers of anyone she touches but so do the Pitohui birds of New Guinea (well, almost). The feathers and skin of Pitohui contain a noxious substance, making them possibly the only poisonous birds in the world and giving them defence against predators. But the birds don’t appear to be able to produce the toxic substance directly. Instead, they acquire it byeating Choresine beetles.

Furthermore,scientists thinkthis toxicity might even rub off onto the birds’ eggs and young, making them toxic to predators as well, even though they have never eaten theChoresinebeetles. So the infant birds are essentially absorbing the superpower from their parents in the same way that Rogue absorbs powers when she touches other people.

5. Chemical weapons

Youtube Embed:

http://www.youtube.com/embed/F-8dJsZ6Dug

Width: 560px

Height: 315px

One animal ability even goes beyond what has been imagined by superhero fiction. Bombardier beetles are noted for their unique defence mechanism that enables them to produce acid gas bombs to deter predators such as ants. In extreme cases they may bombard predators with a lethal dose of these chemical bombs that they kill them.The acid bombs consistof two chemical compounds stored separately in the beetle’s abdomen. When threatened, the beetles combine the two compounds, resulting in the production of a boiling mixture that explodes out of the tip of the directional abdomen as a gas.

You’d think this remarkable weapon was surely the precursor for a superpower. And the superheroes Anarchist and Zeitgeist (members of X Force) both have acid generation powers. Anarchist secretes an acidlike sweat, whereas Zeitgeist spews acidic vomit. But these are hardly formidable weapons. Perhaps it is time that some superheroes caught up with the amazing set of powers that have already evolved in the animal kingdom.

This article is an adapted extract from a chapter in The Secret Science of Superheroes published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

https://theconversation.com/javascripts/lib/content_tracker_hook.js

NOW WATCH: How animals have changed since humans started breeding them

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s