Behold Scutisorex thori, a newly discovered species of hero shrew that has evolved an interlocking and extended vertebral column that gives it some remarkable superpowers.
Found in the African Congo, Thor's hero shrew has twice the number of lower vertebrae than humans do, and a spine that's four times more robust than other animals with a comparable body size.
The scientists who documented the new species, a team that included Bill Stanley from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, aren't entirely sure what the expanded backbone does for the shrew, but it may help it crawl in-between the trunk and leaf bases of trees to allow access to concentrated food resources that would otherwise be free from predators.
Alternately, it could use its added strength for getting under logs or rocks, which it can lift out of the way with remarkable ease. And indeed, the 1.7 ounce shrew can even lift heavy logs and survive intense squishing.
"We hypothesize that the unique vertebral column is an adaptation allowing these shrews to lever heavy or compressive objects to access concentrated food resources inaccessible to other animals," write the authors in the new study.
And fascinatingly, the hero shrew could represent a missing link between the more common shrew and a larger species of hero shrew, Scutisorex somereni, that's been known to science for over a century.
Read the entire study at Biology Letters: "A new hero emerges: another exceptional mammalian spine and its potential adaptive significance."
Images: William Stanley.