Plenty of superheroes and supervillains are animal themed, taking on the grace of a cat or the strength of a spider. But there are animals who are super in their own right, with abilities perfectly suited to saving the day.
Top photo by Robin L.
Here's our imaginary lineup for the Animal Kingdom of Superheroes. Nominate your own candidates in the comments.
Naked Mole Rat
Powers: The naked mole rat is certainly one of the most remarkable creatures to come out of Class Mammalia. No naked mole rat has ever been known to get cancer (apparently thanks to their remarkable skin cells); they can't feel pain from acid or capsaicin; they can survive for long periods of time without oxygen; their teeth function as multitools; and they have incredible sensory perception that make them perfectly built for life underground. They make us humans look like superpower slackers.
Mission: Although their senses and invulnerability to pain would make the naked mole rat ideal candidates for underground crimefighting, their eusocial nature (the naked mole rat is one of only two known species of eusocial mammals) is probably better suited to group tasks. There's a reason we deemed them a species likely to inherit the earth; in our superheroic version of the animal kingdom, the naked mole rats are carving out bunkers in advance of a future apocalypse. Woe unto anyone who tries to stop them.
Of course, there is the occasional naked mole rat superspy:
Weakness: Snakes, notably one that is, oddly enough, called the rufous beaked snake.
Photo by Yinghai.
Powers: Tardigrades (also known as waterbears) are incredible extremophiles, thriving where other animals dare not tread: in temperatures from just above absolute zero to above water's boiling point, in 1,000 times more radiation than other animals could survive, in pressures six times greater than found in the Mariana trench, and even in the vacuum of space.
Mission: Super Waterbear would serve as our envoy to other planets and dimensions. There is no pressure too great (well, okay, there probably is, but it's a very great pressure), no vacuum too empty for this plucky hero.
Weakness: Boredom. Or, if we're being serious, extreme heat would do the trick.
Photo by Jacopo Werther.
Powers: The animal kingdom's golden gloves belong to the peacock mantis shrimp, a fast-punching relative of lobsters and crabs. This critter can unfurl its crushing club with and acceleration 10,000 times greater than gravity and its punch can reach a top speed of 50 miles per hour through the water. It's a power that lets the mantis shrimp demolish mollusc shells and get at that delicious meat.
Mission: We're sending these guys to the Pacific Rim breach to protect us from kaiju.
Weakness: Drawn butter.
Photo by Angell Williams.
Powers: Cuttlefish are masters of disguise. Using its chromatophores, the incredible pigment cells in their skin, cuttlefish can mimic their surrounds to a degree chameleons can only dream of. They can even alter the texture of their skin to appear rough or smooth. It helps that they can see the angle at which light is reflected and polarized, allowing them to further fine-tune their camouflage.
As a bonus, cuttlefish have been known to use their skin-changing ability to hypnotize their prey.
Mission: Cuttlefish are best suited to subterfuge, such as underwater espionage.
Weakness: For the males at least, their greatest weakness is each other. Males outnumber females by up to 11 to 1, which means the competition to mate can get fierce.
Photo by William Warby.
Powers: Yes, dolphins are incredibly intelligent creatures who can detect mines and torpedoes. Bottlenose dolphins can even use nets to trap their prey. But that's not the real reason they're on this list.
The reason is they wield sea snake whips . That's right, dolphins grab sea snakes and whip them around, which makes the sea snakes bite and kill the fish around them. It may not be the Lasso of Truth, but it's a pretty neat weapon.
Mission: We're picturing some sort of underwater Indiana Jones, protecting mystical underwater artifacts from evil deep sea divers.
Update: Sadly, the post about dolphins wielding sea snakes was erroneous. Dolphins are still awesome; they're just not the Indiana Joneses of the sea.
Weakness: Tuna nets.
Photo by Gordon Wrigley.
Powers: Unlike most of the animals on this list, bonobos don't wield some incredible physiological ability, but have instead developed a rather intriguing conflict resolution strategy: sex. In addition to using sexual activity as a means of bonding and achieving pleasure, it appears that bonobos frequently end their (not infrequent) conflicts by engaging in sexual activity, reestablishing happy relations.
Mission: To eliminate all conflict on Earth by encouraging people to have sex with one other.
Weakness: Creating socially awkward situations among non-bonobos.
Thanks to George Dvorsky for suggesting this one!
Photo by Jeroen Kransen.
Powers: Regeneration. Planarians, a type of flatworm, are one of the Time Lords of the animal kingdom (along with creatures like the hydrozoan Turritopsis dohrnii). They possess biological immortality, able to regenerate any organ. They can even regenerate their heads, and their memories stay intact.
Mission: In the superpowered world, flatworms probably aren't the beings who are off getting their hands dirty (even if they had hands to dirty). More likely, they would function as the keepers of knowledge, the animals who hold the great secrets of the universe, or at least their tiny corner of it.
Weakness: Ultraviolet light.
Photo by davidd.
Powers: The Hawkeye of our animal superhero team doesn't even need an arrow. The archerfish takes out insects and other land animals by shooting them with droplets of water. They're also remarkably accurate, with adults usually bringing down their target on the first try.
Mission: Archerfish are sharpshooters, but their skills are peculiar in that they only work against creatures on land. Superhero archerfish would hunt down threats against the ocean on shore or aboard boats, knocking them into the drink.
Weakness: Land critters that move out of range.
Photo by Greg Goebel.
Powers: Dragonflies are nature's predator drones. Because dragonflies can control each of their wings individually, they're remarkably precise fliers and can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. That's why dragonflies usually nab their prey mid-air. Plus, they share a trait with humans: selective attention.
Mission: If you need someone to take down enemy fliers, you can do little better than the dragonfly. And their precise, speedy flights make them ideal for retrieval missions.
Weakness: Unfortunately for dragonflies, they're on a lot of species' menus—including humans'.
Photo by Tom Soper.