Who loves superheroes? We all love superheroes! From Spiderman to the Avengers to Batman to the Fantastic Four to Ant-Man, superheroes are flooding popular culture and becoming an increasingly huge part of western culture. But sometimes we forget that powers that seem impossible in humans are common, even run-of-the-mill, in animals. And nowhere is that more evident among the weirdest and most wonderful of animals, the EDGE species. So, for all you superhero lovers out there, whether you’ve been collecting comics since childhood or just caught “Age of Ultron” on a whim this summer, here are the top ten superpowers really found in EDGE species.
Resistance to starvation
A number of superheroes, including Superman and Wolverine, seem able to survive almost indefinitely without food. Wolverine was even able to withstand starvation by consuming his own flesh (which hurts my biology brain, but never mind). This may be due to several factors, whether it be superhuman healing ability, or a low metabolism. Imagine living out in the wild and not having to worry about starving to death!
Well, meet the northern hairy-nosed wombat. Like many wombats, and unusually for mammals, northern hairy-nosed wombats have extremely low metabolisms; it takes them up to two weeks to digest a meal, extracting as much nutrients as possible. Because of this, despite their large sizes, wombats need to eat very little. They eat about half as much as a kangaroo of their size, and a quarter as much as a sheep. This means the wombat can go for weeks without eating.
If that doesn’t impress you, how about this fellow? This is the Mexican burrowing toad, the most evolutionarily distinct amphibian in the world. It’s a subterranean species, emerging from the earth only to breed. It’s been known to remain underground for over two years without feeding!
Still not enough for you? This strange-looking creature is an olm, a type of cave-dwelling salamander native to southern Europe. Olms have a lot of weird things going for them, but what we’re concerned about here is the fact that they can go ten years without food. Beat that, Wolverine.
Spines and Claws
Speaking of Wolverine, that hero’s greatest and most famous feature has to be his adamantium claws. When Wolverine goes into battle, these metal blades spring from his knuckles, turning his hands into deadly weapons. Similarly, we have Lady Deathstrike, whose fingertips grow into razor-sharp, sword-length talons. But both of these characters were created in a lab (and are fictional). Nothing in nature could possibly beat that, right?
Meet the Chinhai spiny newt, or Chinhai spiny salamander. It’s a rather innocuous looking creature that spends its life wandering the forested hills of eastern China. But this rather ordinary-seeming animal, much like Hugh Jackman, has a very painful secret; it has sharp, spine-like ribs. When seized by a predator, the Chinhai spiny newt’s ribs will spring free, poking through the salamander’s skin and jabbing the mouth and/or hand of the attacker. But that’s not all; the Chinhai spiny newt, like many salamanders, secretes toxins through its skin. When the spiky ribs cut the predator’s skin, it also injects the poison. Leave us just say that this is a pretty painful and memorable lesson for any would-be salamander munchers.
Many superheroes have extremely powerful legs, and many use those legs in combat. We’ve all seen martial arts movies and video games such as “Street Fighter” where characters can kick their way through walls, break bones, and demolish obstacles through the sheer strength in their legs. Spiderman has been seen kicking his way out of trouble, as has the Teen Titans’ Raven in her short stint as Lady Legasus. But surely this can only come about via radioactive spider bites or years of training?
The secretarybird is the world’s most unusual bird of prey. There’s no mistaking it, with its dramatic crest, bright red/orange facial skin, and of course its long legs. It’s also one of the few birds of prey that hunts entirely on the ground. And its secret, you guessed it, is in those long, powerful legs. The secretarybird makes its living entirely by kicking and stomping things to death. They will kick deadly snakes such as puff adders and cobras in the head, or stamp on them to break their spines. Larger prey will be stunned first by the bird leaping onto its back, toes first, and then stamped or kicked until the back or neck is broken. A single kick by a secretarybird is powerful enough to completely shatter a human hand, which is pretty impressive considering that this bird weighs a maximum of ten pounds. Imagine what it could do if it weighed as much as Jackie Chan!
Growing, generating, or just possessing powerful armour is not an uncommon superpower. Think of the Thing, Indra, Lennox, Juggernaut, Colossus…the list goes on an on. Many of these superheroes can be struck by clubs, cars, even bullets without sustaining a single scratch. And sure, we all know about turtles that have similar built-in armour, but what about a mammal? There’s no way anything with soft, mammalian skin could live like that, is there?
This bizarre-looking creature is a pangolin, the world’s only scaly mammal. It resembles an armadillo, but the two animals are almost completely unrelated. There are eight species of pangolin, all are endangered, and are hunted mainly for those unique scales, which are used in Chinese medicine. Those scales are actually made of fused hair, and make up about a quarter of the animal’s total body weight.
So yeah, it’s got armour, but it doesn’t look like much, right? How tough can fused hair be? Plenty tough, as it turns out. Pangolins co-exist with lions and tigers, and the big cats soon learn that while a pangolin might be fun to play with, it is not for eating. That’s because when a pangolin is threatened, it rolls into a tight, scale-covered ball, and not even a lion or tiger can bite through its armour. I will gently remind you that a tiger’s bite is more than powerful enough to crush a human skull. That’s a pretty tough pangolin! And unlike the Thing or Juggernaut, the pangolin floats.
An extended lifespan is another feature many superheroes share. These characters have the ability to live and, in some cases, retain their youth far longer than the normal human lifespan. Some notable examples include Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Captain America, all from the Avengers. Again, some reptiles have been known to live for up to 200 years, but surely there aren’t warm-blooded animals with that kind of lifespan.
This absolutely wonderful bundle of floofy feathers is a kakapo, or owl parrot. Now confined to only a few islands of New Zealand and with a population of perhaps 150 birds, the kakapo is the world’s heaviest and only flightless and nocturnal parrot. Now parrots are already known to be long-lived birds, with African greys and large macaws easily reaching the age of 70, but the kakapo has them all beat. Kakapos have been known to live for up to 90 years in the wild, and that’s not the half of it. Some researchers believe we’re actually underestimating the kakapo’s lifespan, and put it closer to 150 years. Forget Black Widow and Captain America being alive back in World War II, that means there could easily be a kakapo alive today who was born back when Queen Victoria was on the throne of England.
Our countdown continues next Sunday! Keep following EDGE to see what other superpowers EDGE species are showing!
Now continued in Part 2!