Awesome Animals – WIF Supreheroes

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Superheroes

of the

Animal Kingdom

Superpowers may be the stuff of science fiction, but certain animal species possess superpowers–or at least engage in activities that we might attributeto superheroes or, sometimes, supervillains. From starting fires, strategically bleeding from the eyes, protecting other species at sea, living as a snake that gets airborne, and being a walking incendiary weapon, here are some freaks, special operators, and rogues of the living world that will certainly expand our view of critter “can-do.”

10. The Firebird Hunters

Winged and feathered pyromaniacs hunt by fire, according to some rather hot theories put forward based on Australian ornithological observation. While further hard scientific investigation is warranted, it appears that certain raptors such as kites will pick up small smoldering or flaming sticks and then drop them in strategic areas to advance grass fires in their favor. Work published in the Journal of Ethnobiology describes the account of a firefighter who witnessed a Whistling Kite in Australia restarting and spreading fire by picking up burning sticks.

What does the apparent advantage of spreading fires appear to be? Fires flush out or burn prey, allowing easy capture or scavenging of dead remains. Animals fleeing the advancing face of a fire have nowhere to go but away from the bank of flames, which would allow birds taking advantage of this apparently planned situation a relatively easy meal. Birds of many species are naturally adept at gathering small sticks to build well-engineered nests, suggesting that this same stick gathering aptitude may be harnessed by select birds of prey and applied for more… shall we say… high stakes and extreme purposes. It’s already known that birds feed along the face of fires, while many species drop shells strategically to break them open. Using fire to create a hunting opportunity presents a profound twist of ornithology deserving further investigation.

9. The Whale Guardians of The Perilous Sea

Whales may be enormous, but true whales tend to be gentle giants, with the majority of species concentrating their feeding efforts on plankton and small fish. In contrast, Orca–or Killer Whales–are actually giant, hyper-intelligent predatory dolphins that hunt almost anything in the ocean, depending on the type of Orca in question. Transient Orca populations are known as ravenous eaters of whales larger than themselves, while all Orca are apex predators.

And where that danger to other sea life posed by Orca hunting behavior exists, a surprising phenomenon of apparent protection of intended prey–including species as random and diverse as sunfish, seals, and other the young of another whale species–has been to be carried out by “guardian” Humpback Whales. Apparently perceiving the carnage of Orca hunts in a negative light, these determined Humpback “Citizens on Patrol” have been acting as oceanic bodyguards to species finding themselves on the menu for Orca dinners. In one case, a seal was sheltered from a predatory Orca attack, while in another instance, Humpback Whale adults gave up a favorite food that they were themselves targeting (a swarm of shrimp-like krill) to focus instead on defending a Grey Whale calf from a hungry Orca pod.

8. The Bleeding Lizards

Crocodile tears may be a physiological reality, but a number of species belonging to a group of smaller reptiles, the diminutive and dragon-like horned lizards native to North America, take things a step further. Predators might want a mouthful of lizard meat, but apparently a mouthful of squirted blood, or a mess of blood on a would-be hunter’s face, is a fair deterrent. The bizarre superpower of squirting blood from the eyes in an act of strange self-defense is held by eight or more horned lizard species, thanks to special blood filled sinus cavities located around the reptile’s eye sockets.

Upon perceiving a threat such as a coyote or bobcat wanting the lizard as a meal, horned lizard species squirt distasteful blood from the eye sockets with great force, discouraging the meal. Specialized muscles tighten to concentrate blood flow from large veins into thin membrane-bearing ocular sinuses. With sufficient force, the membrane will burst, launching sprays of blood to a distance of up to four feet. Resembling a tiny triceratops dinosaur with its horny adornments behind the eyes and armored body, horned lizards with blood squirting capabilities enjoy excellent compensatory defense considering their small size. Interestingly, the vein flow to the sinuses can be controlled to flush debris away from the desert dwelling animal’s eyes, swelling the membranes.

7. The Flying Snakes

Dragons may be creatures of legend, but something that makes even the thought of pigs flying seem possible exists and thrives after millennia of evolution in rain forests extending from India to Indonesia. Flying snakes spread out the skin on their body by extending their ribs, allowing them to glide magically from one tree to another in pursuit of food and to avoid larger hunters. (Oh, and also to feed your nightmares.) There are five species of flying snakes that exist, all having the ability to slither through the air at high speeds in a beautiful glide.

Ranging between two and four feet in length, flying snakes are venomous predators but pose little threat to humans, as their fangs are positioned toward the back of their jaws and cannot easily deliver an effective bite. Flying snakes prepare to get airborne by hanging suspended in the shape of the letter “J” at a strategic point on a tree branch. Next, the snake uses its rear muscles to “spring” from the tree, moving its body into the shape of the letter “S” once in the air. The snake then forms a concave shape with the cross-section of its body while stretching laterally to twice its original width. The resulting aerodynamic shape traps air under the snake’s body as it glides through the air. Researchers think the precise purpose of this flying ability is either for easy travel between trees in the forest canopy, predator avoidance, or to catch up with prey.

6. Hairy Frog

A frog with sharp claws might seem scary, but even more horrible but remarkable is the way in which the Hairy Frog, named for its weird body bristles, shall we say… procures its weapons for self-defense. The grotesque looking Hairy Frog, native to Central African regions including the country of Cameroon, actually has specialized musculoskeletal adaptations in its hind feet which allow sharp bone pieces to protrude through the frog’s flesh as sharp spikes once released.

Scientists from the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, who were studying the frog’s disconcerting adaptation, reached the conclusion that the behavior was a strange form of self-defense. Specialized muscle contractions in the frog’s hind feet allow a razor sharp fragment to detach from the main toe bone section by breaking bone-joining collagen tissue, subsequently slicing right through the frog’s skin, creating dangerous claws while avoiding any catastrophic blood loss. While injury and pain would seem to be inherent in the action, the balance of risk and harm seems to be in favor of the frog, and against the predators. Essentially, this frog is the Wolverine (the character, not the actual animal) of the animal kingdom. The Hairy Frog is a formidable predator in its own right, having sharp teeth and a habit of seizing a variety of small animals as prey.

5. Bombardier Beetle

Molten lava comes from the Earth, while chemical weapons are seen as the domain of certain mad scientists or military plotters not concerned about facing the consequences of violating international law. Yet among the incredible variety of insect species found on this planet, formidable chemical weapons are unleashed in a burning, acrid furnace of directed attack by a different group of species that belongs to the uniquely diverse and familiar taxonomic group: beetles. Over 500 species of bombardier beetles go about their daily business on all continents (save for Antarctica), appearing like a normal insect. Hidden inside their hard abdomen are two separate compartments of highly reactive chemicals, consisting of hydrogen peroxide in one section and hydroquinone in the other.

Already well protected by a highly developed exoskeleton, bombardier beetles react to provocation and potential predatory attacks by shooting out the two chemical components in streams that mix and react furiously in a boiling mixture of acrid horror that may reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit, burning with both heat and chemical causticity. Burns to everything from the faces of predatory insects to human skin may result if the beetle is approached too closely. In one research project, over 40% of bombardier beetles swallowed by toads were vomited out alive after successfully “going off” inside the toads, calmly struggling back to their feet and walking off as a survivor of the attack by the amphibious predator. Some survivors had been inside the stomach of a toad for over an hour.

4. The Sand Striker

Worms may be thought of as soft, or a lowly form of life. However, it might come as a disturbing surprise that giant, carnivorous, horrendous worms lie submerged below the waves and buried in the sand, with only their formidable slicing jaws protruding. Known as the Sand Striker or Bobbit Worm, Eunice aphroditois occurs in warmer oceanic waters around the globe. The predatory worms are known to reach 10-feet in length, far larger than the popular imagination of a worm. And these jaws are razor sharp, bone-hard fangs with dentition that snap and simply chop prey in half upon the launch of a surprise attack.

The fangs inject a venomous concoction allowing disproportionately large prey to be digested. Equipped with sensory systems that allow passing prey to be detected with ease, the worms lie motionless in deep burrows only to burst forth when their prey “sensor” system is triggered by a creature that happens to stray to close. Lacking brains, these worms make up for their lack of intelligence by A) having the bone-like fangs which cut prey with surgical precision and incredible force and B) their size. Additionally, they can inflict an awful bite on humans should one accidentally put a finger or hand in the vicinity of their strike.

3. Climbing Perch

Perch are generally seen as the classic lake-dwelling fish, but one family of air breathing relatives of the famed Betta, or Siamese fighting fish, is named after typical perch but actually can move about effectively on land. Not perches proper, but simply forming a family of fish in the order Perciformes, which includes true perches, the various species of climbing perch (also known as climbing gouramis) are handsome little fish with a compact, rounded build and innocent appearance. Climbing perch measure between four inches and one foot in length, depending on the species and use their terrestrial locomotion abilities to find new water when their home pools dry up.

Native to tropical regions of Asia, including parts of China, the fish actually hoist themselves out of the water and proceed to “climb” using their gill covers as resting points. With the gill covers providing a point of leverage, the fish then propel themselves forward with the locomotive power of their tail fin. The typical fish requirement of water in order to breathe is bypassed by the air-breathing organ known as a labyrinth that climbing perch possess. While claims have been made that the fish can climb into vegetation such as trees, such a degree of adaptation allowing a transition from terrestrial to arboreal activity has not been proven.

2. Hoatzin

A bird with clawed hands might seem to be the very definition of prehistorically-themed science fiction, but that is exactly what the hoatzin juvenile represents. When young, this species uses clawed “hands” protruding from its wings to climb trees in swampy areas. Native to extensive northern regions of the South American continent and significantly established in the Amazon River Basin and Orinoco River Basins, the Hoatzin looks somewhat like a pheasant or certain mythical depictions of a phoenix with its peculiar hues of color, as well as its crest, elongated body, and stout bill.

Unlike most birds, the Hoatzin can digest leaves, which form a significant portion of its diet along with fruits and flowers. In order to effectively digest leaves, the Hoatzin possesses an enormously large crop which limits its flying abilities but allows the bird to ruminate in a manner akin to cattle. When a predator attacks a group of Hoatzins, the fluffy-looking young birds will drop into the water below their mangrove or riparian forest home and then scramble back up into the canopy using their wing claws (each wing has two) once the threat has abated. The only species in its order, the primitive bird remains a strange tangent of avian evolution with superpowers of juvenile survival.

1. Mantis Shrimp

Shrimp might be a synonym for a small or simply weak animal. Yet the bizarre and dangerous crustaceans known as mantis shrimp are seemingly normal looking, albeit colorful, marine crustaceans that can combine the hardness of their exoskeleton with a “karate punch” of unbelievable speed and force. And what is the function of this ability to hit with unimaginable strength? To crack open the nearly rock hard shells of clams and other shellfish that the mantis shrimp wants to devour.  Striking with a force exceeding 330 pounds at more than 23 meters per second (or 50 miles per hour) using specially adapted club-like appendages, mantis shrimp can shatter almost any protective armor to take down prey. A locking mechanism and spring allow incredible energy releases.

Unfortunately for aquarists or researchers, a mantis shrimp blow could also destroy a glass aquarium or a finger bone on impact. The blow is powerful enough to produce cavitation bubbles as well as sonoluminescence, which consists of light flashes generated by bubble collapse. The shockwave alone associated with a blow can cause prey to die even if the mantis shrimp does not make physical contact. Other varieties of mantis shrimp use spearing appendages to capture prey instead of blunt force. While not technically falling into the category of decapod shrimp (which includes the type served commonly for dinner), mantis shrimp have a shrimp-like appearance and impression, hence their name. More than 400 species of mantis shrimp occur globally, mostly in tropical waters. Most commonly mantis shrimp grow to just under four inches in length, though a massive 18 inches has been attained.


Awesome Animals –

WIF Supreheroes

Insects + Summer = Super-bugs

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Top Ten 8

10 Insects with Amazing Superpowers

Many people are afraid of insects, probably because they’re creepy, disgusting, freaky, and scary. But despite their weird appearances, many insects possess incredible abilities that will put other animals, and even us humans, to shame. Despite their miniscule sizes and simple brains, these lowly creatures hold the key to solving some of mankind’s greatest problems. Just like…


10. Cockroaches

American-cockroach

Cockroaches are perhaps the most disliked creatures in the whole world. Despite that, they’re also the most powerful. Just the mere presence of a single cockroach can make the strongest, most powerful men jump, run, and scream like a girl.

What most people don’t know is that cockroaches have significant value to the medicalworld. A number of researchers nowadays are studying cockroaches for their potential in curing some of man’s most dreaded diseases. Scientists have discovered that the brains of cockroaches contain “nine antibiotic molecules … that protect them from voracious, lethal bacteria”. So, what does this have to do with modern day medicine? Well, the antibacterial molecules found in the brains of cockroaches are more powerful than the antibiotics we use today. In fact, the antibacterial properties of these disgusting insects are far more effective than some of our modern medicine that they make “prescription drugs look like sugar pills”. Laboratory tests show that the antibacterial molecules found in cockroaches can easily cure MRSA—a bacterial infection more deadly than AIDS—and E. coli.

Aside from their amazing healing power, cockroaches also have the incredible ability tosurvive nuclear explosions. When Hiroshima and Nagasaki were annihilated by atomic bombs, the only sole survivors were cockroaches. However, it’s important to note that this amazing ability has its limitations. When exposed to 100,000 radon units, cockroaches will die.

9. Bees

Bee

Bees are one of the most intelligent insects in the animal world. Not only do they have their own sophisticated means of communication, they also have extraordinary navigation skills despite the fact that their eyesight is limited.

It’s common knowledge that honey bees can communicate with each other. They perform a series of movements called a “waggle dance” to tell each other where food is located or which spot is best for building a new colony. However, what many people don’t know is that the dance is extremely advanced. Honey bees know that the Earth is round, and they take this fact into consideration when they’re learning the location of a certain food source. Aside from that, they can also calculate angles very easily just by reading their waggle dances. For example, if a bee dances from a 12 to 6 o’clock direction, that means food or home is located directly away from the sun. In contrast, a 6 to 12 o’clock movement signifies that bees are to “fly straight forward towards the sun”. A 7 to 1 o’clock movement means that the bees are to fly “to the right of the sun”.

Aside from communicating with each other, honey bees also navigate their surroundings through other means like remembering visual landmarks, taking the sun’s position into consideration, and using the Earth’s electromagnetic field.

8. Locusts

locust

Locusts are one of the most efficient pilots in the insect world. These winged creatures, which many people consider to be menaces, can fly great distances without using too much energy. For many years now, scientists have been studying them, and they found out that even though these insects don’t produce great amounts of thrust and lift, they’re capable of sustaining a steady flight rate. Their ability to maintain a steady flight rate doesn’t change even if the winds and temperature become unfavorable. This amazing ability enables them to travel vast distances without wasting much energy.

What’s more amazing is that locusts have the capacity to twist their wings during flights. By doing so, they can preserve and even control the quantity of lift they generate. This, in turn, helps in keeping their flight at a consistent rate. This additional feature enables them to fly up to 80 kilometers in one day without requiring a rest.

7. Fireflies

firefly-lights_up

Fireflies‘ amazing ability to produce their own light is a wonder in the animal kingdom, and a source of inspiration and joy for many of us. As a child, you’ve probably experienced that magical feeling that comes upon seeing the twilight flickering of these amazing creatures for the first time.

One thing that we, as humans, can learn from fireflies is how to use energy efficiently. Fireflies were designed by Nature to use energy without wasting much of it through heat. The light bulbs we have in our homes only use 10% of their total energy in producing light. The remaining 90% becomes wasted heat energy. On the other hand, the amazing bodies of fireflies were designed to use 100% of the energy to produce light. If fireflies were like light bulbs, in that they use only 10% to make light and the remaining 90% is released as heat energy, they would almost certainly burn to death.

Moreover, just like bees, fireflies can talk with each other too. Fireflies use their ability to produce light to signal each other that they are available for mating. Male fireflies give off distinct flash patterns (each species has their own unique patterns) that signal the female fireflies that they are “single”. On the other hand, if the female fireflies are interested in mating, they too would reply by flickering.

6. Fleas

flea

Fleas are harmful not only to your pets, but also to you and your family. Despite that, they have something in them that deserves human admiration: these insects are capable of jumping 150 times their own height! Now, this might not sound really amazing if you view it in insect terms, but if you look at it in a human perspective, then you’ll find that the fleas plaguing your pets are indeed incredible creatures.


Consider this. A certain person, let’s call him Bill, is 5’9” tall. If he were a flea, then he would be able to jump 862.5 feet into the air, which would be defying gravity to the highest extent. Just imagine how different our world would be if we possessed this amazing flea ability. There would be fewer cars, less pollution, less expenses, etc. So, the next time you crush a flea, think of what it can do.

5. Dung Beetles

dung-beetle

There are two reasons why dung beetles are included in this list: poop and astronomy. This might surprise you, but these two seemingly-unrelated subjects have been connected by these incredible creatures.

Dung beetles live a very disgusting lifestyle. They collect animal wastes, roll it up into a ball, and use it for several purposes. They can use the ball as their homes, lay their eggs on it, or if they’re hungry, snack on it. Now, what’s amazing is that dung beetles have the incredible ability to roll their “dung balls” in a straight line even at night! Intrigued by this fascinating ability, Marie Dacke, a biologist from Lund University in Sweden, conducted an experiment. She placed the dung beetles in a planetarium, and watched as the insects were able to successfully roll their dung ball in a straight line by using the “entire starry sky”.

To make the experiment more interesting, Dacke decided to show only the Milky Way Galaxy. Surprisingly, the dung beetles were still capable of rolling their precious dung balls in a straight line.  The conclusion: dung beetles are great recyclers and incredible astronomers.

4. Dragonflies

dragonfly

We humans have the amazing ability of selective attention. Right now, you’re using this power to eliminate various distractions and focus on reading and understanding this list. For many years, scientists have believed that only primates possess this amazing ability. However, a new research shows that a specific winged creature in the insect world is also capable of selective attention—dragonflies.

Dragonflies have very small brains and yet, when hunting for food, they rely on selective attention. If a dragonfly sees a swarm of tiny insects, it’s going to lock its attention on one prey alone. Through selective attention, it eliminates other potential prey within the swarm and focuses solely on its target. Dragonflies are very accurate when it comes to catching their prey.  Their success rate is very high – 97 percent!

3. Ants

ant

Ants have the amazing ability of always finding their way back home even if they’ve wandered far away in search for food. Scientists have long known that ants employ various visual cues to remind them of where their colony is. However, in some places, like deserts, where there are no distinct landmarks, how do ants manage to find their way back home? This is the same question that Dr. Markus Knaden, Dr. Kathrin Steck, and Prof. Bill Hanson of the Max-Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany tried to answer with a very simple experiment.

For their experiment, the scientists used Tunisian desert ants. They placed four different odors around the entrance of the ants’ nest, and made sure that the entrance was barely visible. After letting the ants associate the odors with their nest, they were then removed and then placed in a different location, one with no nest and no entrance. Only the four odors used previously in the first location were present.

Surprisingly, the ants went to the area where the odors were located (the same spot where the nest entrance should have been)! This experiment proved that ants can smell in stereo, which means that they can sense two different odors at the same time from two unique directions. Moreover, it also proved that in places, like deserts, ants don’t rely on visual cues. They create an “odor map” of their environment by relying on their “stereo sense of smell”. As long as the odor is there, they will always find their way back home.

2. Voodoo Wasps

voodoo-wasp

Voodoo wasps are called such because of their “magical” ability to turn their prey or enemies into “zombies”. This might sound like something you’d see in a sci-fi flick, but scientists have proven that voodoo wasps are indeed capable of inducing other insects into a zombie-like state. What’s more eerie is that, once the insects become zombies, voodoo wasps can control them.

Voodoo wasps lay their eggs inside the bodies of young geometrid caterpillars. The larvae inside the caterpillars survive by feeding on the bodily fluids of their host. Once the larvae achieve full development, they find their way out of the caterpillar’s body by eating its skin. Then, they create a cocoon and attach themselves into a leaf or a branch. Here comes the slightly terrifying, yet equally fascinating part. The host the caterpillar doesn’t leave the cocoon — instead of doing its usual business, the caterpillar acts as the cocoon’s bodyguard, protecting it from various predators.

Researchers conducted an experiment which showed that infected caterpillars do become the “zombie bodyguards” of voodoo wasps by introducing stinkbugs. Caterpillars which were not infected didn’t do anything to stop the stinkbug from going near the cocoon. On the other hand, infected caterpillars protected the cocoon by knocking the bug off the branch. Scientists don’t know why the infected caterpillars protect the cocoon. However, they did find out that this incredible ability of voodoo wasps is crucial for their survival.

1. Bombardier Beetle

bompardier beetles

When it comes to defensive strategies in the insect world, nothing beats the Bombardier beetle. This creature has the incredible ability to fire a hot mixture of chemical solution strong enough to injure its enemies. The toxic solution sprayed by the beetle can reach an impressive temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, or 100 degrees Celsius.

But what’s even more fascinating is the intricate design of the Bombardier beetle’s body. You see, the two chemicals, hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone, which this insect uses to injure its enemies are dangerous and fatal. If not stored and combined properly, these chemicals would cause the Bombardier beetle to explode! Were it not for their well-designed bodies, Bombardier beetles would have never existed. At the end of this insect’s abdomen are two glands. These two glands separate the hydrogen peroxide from the hydroquinone. If the Bombardier beetle feels threatened, its sphincter muscles will squeeze the right amount of chemicals into a certain body part where they are mixed together with other toxic substances. The result is a hot mixture of toxic chemicals capable of hurting the Bombardier beetle’s enemies.

Insects + Summer = Super-bugs