Welcome back to Superhero Sunday here at EDGE! Last week we met a salamander who can go ten years without eating, a bird who’s older than the Titanic, an armoured anteater, and lots more! This week we continue with our countdown of EDGE species with amazing superpowers, animals that rival the greatest characters in any comic! Let’s get started!
Navigation Despite Blindness
Okay, let’s forget the horrible Ben Affleck movie, Daredevil is still an awesome superhero. Imagine being blind, but still able to navigate the city, hunt down criminals, and duke it out with villains. It must be incredible to be able to “see” without eyes.
Well, a number of EDGE species live in areas where eyes are of no use. Imagine you lived in a murky, muddy river, where the water was so cloudy you could barely see a foot in front of you. The South Asian river dolphin lives in just such a place, including the Ganges River in India. The water there is so cloudy and full of sediment that the dolphin hardly needs eyes at all; in fact, its other name is “the blind river dolphin”. Over time, the dolphin’s eyes have become tiny, lensless, and vestigial, used only for sensing light. The dolphin navigates entirely by using sonar and by feeling its way along the river bottom using its long nose.
What else is there? Remember the olm from before? Well, you can imagine there’s not much use for eyes in a dark cave. What’s really amazing about the olm is that they are born with functional eyes, but as they develop into adults they lose their sight. Eventually, skin grows over the eyes, making them barely useful for detecting light. Instead, the olm navigates via their powerful sense of smell and, even more surprisingly, a strange sixth sense. This sense is similar to that of a shark, and allows the olm to sense the electric signals given off by living things. Even Daredevil can’t do that!
4.) Skin Generation
This power is a bit more unusual, the power to grow and re-grow skin, maybe to heal a wound, but maybe for some other purpose as well. But it’s certainly not unknown in superheroes; Skinsmith, one of Legion’s personas, is probably the best example. But a power like this surely can’t occur in the natural world…can it?
This is not a worm, nor is it a snake. This is, in fact, an amphibian; a legless, soil-dwelling amphibian called a caecilian. They’re related to salamanders and frogs, live in loose, moist earth, and have a very, very unusual way of feeding their young. Mother caecilians will grow an extra layer of thick, fatty skin when their young hatch. These young possess specialised and very sharp teeth, which they use to peel off and devour their mother’s skin. She will continue to feed them like this, growing and re-growing her skin, until the young caecilians leave the nest. Now that’s motherly love!
This is another classic superhero trait; the unkillable character. Blast them with poison gas, starve them, deprive them of water, even bombard them with radiation, and they still won’t die. Superman is the obvious example, but one could make a case for Wolverine, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, and Carol Danvers. But I’ve gotta be pulling your leg now, right?
Yes, that is a camel. A bactrian camel, in fact, and in many ways it’s not invulnerable, as its critically endangered status would indicate. But it does have an absolutely remarkable endurance, and can withstand and survive conditions that would kill just about any other animal. For example, I could probably have drawn a comparison to Matter-Eater Lad, because wild bactrian camels have been observed surviving on just about anything. And I’m not talking just about plants, though the camels can and do eat plants too dry, bitter, thorny, and salty for other herbivores. These camels have been seen eating ropes, tents, sandals, even desiccated carcasses. They’ve even been known to gnaw on dry bones. And that’s not all; with their long eyelashes and sealable nostrils, bactrians can easily weather the worst sandstorms. Their woolly coats protect them against both heat and cold, allowing them to survive in areas that range from +40 degrees to -40 degrees celsius. They can survive on brackish or even salt water/slush, something not even their domestic cousins can do. Finally, the bactrian camels in the Gashun Gobi Desert live in an area where over 40 atmospheric nuclear tests were conducted. The camels have shown absolutely no ill-effects from the radiation, and the entire herd is breeding well. They might just give Captain Marvel something to think about!
It’s an incredibly dramatic moment; the hero gets struck by a blow that should leave them crippled or dead, but, as the audience watches, the bleeding slows, stops, and the hero rises, the wound closing as though it was never there. Many superheroes possess this kind of super-healing, from Superman and Wolverine (again) to the Martian Manhunter, Deathstroke, Lobo, Vandal Savage, Spawn, Venom, Sabretooth, and the always beloved Deadpool. These heroes can heal themselves from burns, cuts, bruises, and even re-attach severed limbs. There’s no way anything outside the pages of comic books could manage that, could they?
You may already know this little guy; in fact, there’s a decent chance you’ve got one swimming around an aquarium in your home. This is an axolotl, a Mexican salamander that is also a popular and much-beloved pet. Sadly, domesticated axolotls now greatly outnumber their wild counterparts, as the wild population is now critically endangered due to habitat loss and pollution. But the axolotl has a lot more going for it than just being cute! Axolotls have incredible healing powers. Not only can they re-grow lost toes/fingers, it’s also been demonstrated that they can regenerate entire limbs, including their legs and tails. Even more amazingly, its been found that injured axolotls can actually re-grow missing parts of their brains. What’s more, unlike most animals (including humans) who have to worry about blood types and genetic matches, axolotls can accept limb and/or organ transplant from any donor, regardless of relationship or genetic difference. They may not be able to take a shotgun blast, but that’s still pretty impressive!
NOTE: Please do not try to demonstrate/prove this with your pet axolotl. Please.
And the number one superpower found in EDGE species is:
Coming back from the dead
It happens so often in comic books that it’s become a cliché. The superhero was brought down by some villain, is mourned and given a touching farewell…only to come back, alive and well, a few months later. Everyone from Garth Ennis to Justin Pierce has mocked it, and now it seems like death in comic books has little to no meaning. But this has got to be the final straw. There is no way, absolutely no way, that any animal can come back from the dead. Right?
This colourful creature is called the Hula painted frog. From the 1940s through to the 50s, only five examples of this species were collected from the Hula wetlands in Israel dependent on Lake Hula, a 14 kilometre squared freshwater lake. Biologists celebrated the discovering of a new species of frog. But from 1951 to 1958, a massive drainage project was undertaken to transform the “wasteland” of marsh into farmland. The suddenly dry topsoil was stripped by the winds, polluted water flowed into nearby lakes, and the underground peat that had been kept moist by the swamp ignited, causing raging underground fires. And the frogs disappeared, officially to be declared extinct in the wild in 1996, the very first amphibian given that classification by the IUCN.
Years later, in the 1990s, a surge of heavy rains flooded the southern part of the former marsh. A new lake, a fraction of the size of Lake Hula, was formed, but immediately became flush with biodiversity, becoming a major stopover for migrating birds and a new nesting ground. It was decided to set this area aside as a nature preserve and bird sanctuary, restoring at least a small part of the wetlands to their former glory.
In the year 2000, a scientist from environmental agency A Rocha reported seeing a small, brightly coloured frog in the new wetlands. It caused a stir, and several surveys were conducted. But it wasn’t until 2011 that a park ranger named Yoram Malka, who had been searching and hoping for years, brought in a frog like the one in the picture. It took two years for the reports to be published and the identification, but it was true. Since then over ten more individuals have been found around a single pond in the new marshland. The Hula painted frog was back, apparently, from the dead.
They may not be the Justice League, and they may not be saving the world from Lex Luthor any time soon, but there’s no denying that these EDGE species have some amazing superpowers. Whether they’re finding their way through the murk, living through extreme temperatures, kicking their way through life, or even coming back from the dead, these species are as incredible as any X-Man. Unfortunately, like many of the superheroes we’ve mentioned, these species are in a constant fight for their lives. Learn more about them on their individual pages, and be an EDGE superhero and donate to help us raise awareness and fund studies. Help us keep these natural Avengers assembled!