Oct 6

The Superheroes Of The Animal Kingdom

Time and time again it seems that even our most astonishing ideas and inventions are no match for Mother Nature. The natural world seems to evolve and perfect the weirdest ideas that humans could possibly imagine. Early explorers used compasses to navigate the seas; birds have been using the Earth’s magnetic fields to travel across the globe for millions of years, solar panels use the photoelectric effect to generate an electric current; plants have been photosynthesising for over a billions years. Nevertheless, what about superpowers? It seems that Mother Nature has delivered yet again!

The ‘Voodoo Wasp’ creating armies of ‘Zombie Caterpillars’

As we all know the insect world is pretty strange, and the mind controlling ‘Voodoo Wasp’ (Glyptapanteles) is one of the creepiest. These wasps are found in both the southern and central regions of America. It all begins when a female wasp lays up to 60 eggs in an unsuspecting caterpillar. Caterpillars are generally pretty peaceful creatures that are not phased by other insects… unless of course the caterpillar is a ‘Zombie caterpillar’!

Once the larvae hatch (from inside the caterpillar!) the host will spin a cocoon to help the development of the wasps larvae. One of the most astounding things about the infected caterpillar is that they will become uncharacteristically aggressive. The caterpillar will remain outside the cocoon and protect the larvae by fending off any potential predators. The caterpillar will keep this up until it starves to death.

Scientists believe that not all the wasp larvae will emerge from the caterpillar. Although the full mechanism is not understood, it is believed that there are wasps that remain inside the caterpillar. They help to manipulate the host, giving up their chance at pupating for the sake of their siblings.

Mantis Shrimp- Super Strength & UV Vision

The Mantis Shrimp has some of the most incredible features of any animal on Earth. The Mantis Shrimp, although its name suggests, is not a shrimp but a ‘Stomatopoda’. These incredible creatures have left scientists and engineers alike scratching their heads trying to figure out how they have their superpowers. So much so that technologies are now being developed to imitate the Mantis Shrimp’s ability to see ultraviolet light. Scientists and engineers are looking at the Mantis because it completely outclasses current DVD and CD player technologies!

The Mantis Shrimp’s repertoire however, doesn’t stop there. It also has a punch that would make Hercules look like a little kitten. Although the Mantas Shrimp only weighs around 0.08kg, it can strike with the force of a rifle bullet. The punch is that fast it actually produces light. This happens because the club moves through the water so fast that it lowers the water pressure in front of the club causing it to boil – creating light.

To help put this in perspective, heavy weight boxing champ Mike Tyson, at his physical peak, was once recorded as hitting with a force of 7000N. If the Mantis Shrimp stood pound for pound with Mike Tyson (100kg) it would possess a punch of 1,875,000N! That is enough force to accelerate a 4 tonne truck to supersonic speeds!

The Immortal Jellyfish

Long before Benjamin Button there was the Immortal Jellyfish (Turritopsis nutricula). In times of stress the Immortal Jellyfish can reverse the ageing process (just like Brad Pitt’s character in the movie ‘Benjamin Button’). Although scientists have known about this creature since the 1800’s, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that researches realised this Jellyfish had some incredible abilities.

The Immortal Jellyfish’s behaviour resembles that of a microbe. It has the ability to revert back to a simple polyp. The jellyfish makes all of this possible through a process known as ‘transdifferentiation’ – the ability for cells to change their purpose. This means that the Jellyfish’s organ cells can revert back to a sperm or egg cell. This helps the animal change back to its infancy. Once the conditions are favourable for the Jellyfish to return, it will grow back to its former self, but with some changes…the Jellyfish has actually made multiple copies of itself!

The reason why the Immortal Jellyfish is not filling up our oceans is because they won’t always reverse the ageing process. It appears that the only time they re-metamorphosise is when they are stressed and this is only achieved after sexual maturity.

The Mimic Octopus

The Mimic Octopus can change its shape, colour and texture to fool even the smartest of predators. If you are an X-men fan then you will be familiar with the character Mystique. Mystique has the ability to transform into any person she wishes to in order to hide, sneak and hunt, much like the Mimic Octopus. The mimic octopus was only discovered in 1998 off the coast of Indonesia. Scientists witnessed the octopuses impersonating sea snakes, lionfish and flatheads in order to avoid and scare off predators.

No other species currently known has the ability or adaptability to imitate the vast variety of animals that the Mimic Octopus can. It has even been seen illusively shifting between impersonations as it runs across the sea floor. They also have the ability to change the colour and texture of their skin.
The intelligence of the Mimic Octopus is shown by the creature’s ability to identify poisonous and aggressive sea creatures and imitate their colour and shape. When you add on the already well documented smarts of Octopus in general you have one very intelligent and illusive animal.

Humans control the weather

Some scientists believe that we have now entered a new geological age known as the Anthropocene (‘Anthropo’- Greek for ‘human’ and ‘cene’- denoting a recent geological time). It is believed that there is currently no ecosystem on Earth that is not affected by human activities.

Deforestation and industrialisation has led to an increase in greenhouse gases which in turn is resulting in a change in the Earth’s climate. This is somewhat alarming when you really think about what this means – our actions are influencing every single corner of the globe. NOTHING on Earth can escape the wrath of humanities desire for economic success.

Scientists from all over the globe are predicting that, due to climate change, there will be the destruction of many ecosystems resulting in the extinction of over a million species by 2050. There have also been suggestions of increased famine, due to the effects of climate change, resulting in the mass movement of people leading to an increased risk of conflict.

Unfortunately, if this were an episode of Superman, humanity would be the super villain.