Using available box office numbers, superhero film franchises have generated well over $40 billion to date, which is a fairly decent indicator that people are really into superheroes. But if you’re feeling a little burned out on the whole thing, worry not. Nature itself offers up some unbelievable alternatives to the MCU. In a way, it almost makes sense – why shouldn’t the non-human creatures of the world have superhuman abilities?
10. Ballooning Spiders Can Fly
One of the most basic yet revered superhero abilities is flight. Mankind has long envied the birds of the sky and their perceived freedom, so it’s no wonder that superheroes who can fly are a dime a dozen these days. There’s something fascinating about flight being mastered by a life form that has no business flying. Take spiders, for instance.
Some species of spider engage in a behavior called ballooning. They turn their butts skyward and release strands of web into the great wide open. The webbing lifts the spider and carries it away. They can even travel across oceans doing this. That alone is impressive, but it’s worth looking at a little more closely.
You might assume after reading this that the spiders are lifted up by the wind. That’s what scientists used to think, too. But spiders can hardly rely on the fickle nature of a breeze, can they? Ballooning doesn’t need the wind at all, though that’s obviously a possibility as well. But even on a calm day, the strands of silk they release are able to lift them up thanks to the Earth’s electric field.
Turns out the spiders are very finely tuned to electrical fields. The hairs on their bodies can actually feel changes in electrical fields and when conditions are right, they can release strands of silk, allowing the repulsion on a charged thread to take them up, up and away.
9. Dolphins Can Shut Off Half of Their Own Brains
The world’s oceans still hold many mysteries and even the things we know about are pretty amazing. Look at the humble dolphin. It’s one of the most intelligent animals in the world and has been shown to do some amazing things from helping humans hunting fish to rescuing people from sharks. But have you ever stopped to wonder how a dolphin manages something as simple as sleeping?
Dolphins, like all mammals, need to breathe air. So how do you do that when you fall asleep in the middle of the ocean? If you’re a dolphin, you do it by fractions. They have the ability to shut down the hemispheres of their brains separately. That means the left half of their brain can be snoozing while the right half is awake and making sure they don’t drown or get eaten.
This allows them to keep swimming slowly while they’re asleep, with one eye open, and remain alert in a very basic way. This is also important for mothers with babies as a baby can’t stop swimming or it will sink. The mom keeps swimming and pulling the baby along in her slipstream.
Dolphins breathe consciously, unlike humans for whom breathing happens automatically. That’s why we don’t suffocate in our sleep. But a dolphin must always remain at least partially conscious to control this action.
8. Hummingbirds Burn 6 Times as Many Calories a Day as a Human and Can Fly 500 Miles Nonstop
You may not think a hummingbird is any kind of force of nature, but the truth is, pound for pound, a hummingbird shames even the world’s greatest athletes in terms of physical ability and stamina.
Even though they only weigh a few ounces, these birds are little machines when it comes to what they do in a day. The average hummingbird can burn anywhere from 6,000 to 12,000 calories in one day. The average man burns around 2,000 calories per day. An Olympic athlete might burn 4,500. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson consumes over 5,000 calories per day to maintain his physique, meaning you could make an argument that the Rock is about half a hummingbird.
What can a hummingbird do with all those calories? The ruby-throated hummingbird needs to migrate every year, and it chooses to do so by flying across the Gulf of Mexico. In one extended flight over open water, the bird will fly for nearly an entire day across 500 miles of ocean. The little guys need to bulk up before the flight and will lose half their entire body mass on the journey.
7. Birds Can Repair Their Hearing
About 13% of people in the US suffer hearing loss in one or both ears. That works out to around 30 million people. So finding a way to potentially fix that issue and restore hearing is a big industry. The answer may come from nature as it turns out birds can’t go permanently deaf. The reason is that their ears are able to repair themselves after damage.
If the hair-like cells that transmit vibrations to your brain to be interpreted as sound are damaged, that’s it. You can permanently lose hearing if they are all destroyed. But birds, as well as some reptiles and amphibians, just grow new cells when they get damaged. Unlocking the science of that could lead to a treatment for what had once been permanent hearing loss in humans.
The science behind it is complex and there are many hurdles to overcome before it could potentially help humans, but it’s a path to travel nonetheless. In the meantime, just know that if you ever meet a deaf bird, it won’t be deaf for long.
6. Beta Mandrills Physically Change to Become Alphas
Alphas in animal society are something most of us are passingly familiar with. An alpha is the “top” animal in a hierarchy, the boss as it were. We’ve adopted the term into human society in a way that’s generally negative. An alpha male is someone most people consider a bully. And there’s a lot more to the science of being alpha that just being the loudest or toughest.
Firstly, there’s no such thing as an alpha wolf. That doesn’t happen in nature, and our understanding of that happening in wolf society was based on observations of captive animals. But some species do have alphas and colorful mandrill baboons are among them.
The difference between an alpha male and a beta male is amazing and nowhere is it better observed than seeing what happens when a beta male defeats an alpha. A beta male goes through observable physical changes when alpha status is achieved.
Just by winning a fight, the beta male achieves alpha status. This includes an increase in testosterone production. His testicles grow larger and the red sexual coloration on both their face and genitals increases to attract more female attention.
5. Elysia Marginata, a Nudibranch, Can Cut its Own Head Off
Most people aren’t likely to list the Elysia marginata as their favorite animal because who the hell even knows what that is? Well, it’s a kind of nudibranch, or sea slug, and this curious little beast has one heck of a superpower. Much like Deadpool, this creature can survive just about anything, and it’s willing to push itself to the limit when it needs to. For instance, it can and will decapitate itself.
Scientists think the process may be a way to fix problems like parasites. The slug just removes its head from its own body and starts the process of growing an entirely new body off of the severed head. It will come back as good as new, complete with all the vital organs, and the slug can go on living.
4. Lyrebirds Have the Ability to Mimic Almost Any Sound
Lyrebirds are some remarkable creatures that live in Australia. They have ostentatious tail feathers, live on the ground and blend in pretty well with their surroundings. But the remarkable thing about a lyrebird is its unparalleled ability to mimic almost anything it hears. It may imitate up to 20 different birds in a single song and it uses this to try to lure in a mate.
The lyrebird doesn’t limit itself to stealing tunes from other birds, however. Their keen ears take in every sound they run across in the wild. That has led to some remarkable videos of these birds not just imitating their feathered cousins but things like car alarms, camera shutters, and even chainsaws. The mimicry is uncanny and, in many cases, nearly indistinguishable from the original source.
3. Cougars are Unprecedented Farmers
When you think of the ability to grow plants and have a green thumb on the scale of a character like Poison Ivy, you’re unlikely to stray into the animal kingdom at all since most animals seem like they wouldn’t even have an understanding of how seeds and planting work. And guess what? That’s true. But just because a cougar doesn’t know it’s an amazing farmer doesn’t make it untrue.
Research shows that a large predator, like a cougar, can disperse tens of thousands of seeds across a massive spread of their territory. Around 5000 seeds per square kilometer are spread and fertilized by cougars and that second point explains how it’s done. Cougars are apex predators and their prey is generally herbivores. They eat animals that eat plants and seeds and those seeds pass undisturbed through their digestive tract. As they travel their territory, they will inadvertently plant as much as 94,000 new fruits and flowers and other kinds of plantlife to keep the whole cycle going year after year.
2. F. Oxysporum Fungus Wears Golden Armor
There are plenty of organisms you could compare to Iron Man out in the world, from turtles to armadillos to clams, depending on how fast and loose you want to play with the concept. But do any of them have the flair of Tony Stark? One does. It’s called Fusarium oxysporum and what it lacks in the cool name department it makes up for in industrious behavior.
Fusarium is a fungus that mines for gold. Found in Australia, this pink fungus is able to detect gold molecules in the soil and dissolve them. As the fungus grows, it spreads out tiny, thread-like tendrils. These tendrils draw the gold in and become encrusted with the element during the process. Researchers also noted that the fungus which found the gold actually grew more than fungus that wasn’t able to do so.
The process takes place in the soil and at a microscopic level, so it’s unlikely you’ll be seeing any golden mushrooms growing in the woods anytime soon. That said, if there was enough gold present, who knows?
1. Newts Can Regenerate Almost Anything
Any superhero worth their salt has to be tough. They have to be able to get beaten on by the likes of Thanos or Stilt-Man. And they can’t all be super strong like the Hulk or nearly invulnerable like Superman. Sometimes things need to get a little gross and grisly, like they can in the life of a fire-bellied newt.
Many amphibians are known for their regenerative abilities. If they lose a toe or a tail, they can grow back. Fire-bellied newts are like that, but on a whole new, unbelievable level. In experiments, newts have been shown to regenerate their eyes 18 times in a row over a span of 16 years and each time the new eyes were as pristine as the originals.
Newts are able to survive and regenerate from remarkable injuries that would kill most other life forms, like a damaged spinal cord. Hypoxia, the lack of oxygen in tissues that causes things like brain death, is overcome by some newts that can even generate new brain tissue to repair the organ afterward. Even damage to the heart can be overcome, with newts able to regenerate from damage to 10% and up to 20% of their heart tissue.