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The Green Life: 4 Ordinary Animals with Superhero Abilities

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June 18, 2013

4 Ordinary Animals with Superhero Abilities

Sumtran tigerJust like Clark Kent looks like a normal guy until he puts on the blue and red outfit comes, these seemingly-ordinary animals possess some extraordinary abilities. Find out which critter can sense electric impulses in the sea, which super-animal can jam a bat's sonar, and which creature has a better internal mapping system than your smartphone. 

1.) The Tiger's Whiskers

Far from ordinary, a tiger’s whiskers are more useful and mysterious than one might expect. Nerves at the base of the whiskers help tigers detect distances and changes in their surroundings. When tigers hunt, they go for the kill shot: the carotid artery located in the neck. After the tiger’s canines have pierced the artery, the whiskers move forward, encircling the prey’s neck, and determine if the prey’s pulse is gone. (Check out our latest quiz to find out what you have in common with tigers and other big cats!)

 2.) The Pigeon's Compass


Pigeons have an internal clock that helps them find their way home. Since domestic pigeons don’t look for food of their own, they go on long, spontaneous journeys with no maps or breadcrumbs to help them find their way back. They use the position of the sun in the sky, for as long as it is visible, to complement their internal magnetic compass. The constant dance between these two mechanisms is referred to as the clock-shift.

3.) The Many Talents of the Platypus



This rather cute but unusual animal has quite a few surprising superpowers. The platypus has electroreception, which allows it to sense electric impulses in streams and rivers, it is one of the few living mammals that can lay eggs, but its coolest power has got to be the one hidden behind the thighs of its back limbs. Male platypuses have venom ducts located cleverly behind a single layer of thick skin. The venom is secreted by a gland when the platypus feels threatened by the presence of another species. Its venom is especially dangerous during breeding season and there have been instances of intense pain in humans and hunting dogs.

4.) In Defense of Bertoldia trigona

Tiger moth

The tiger moth has recently been discovered to have the ability to predict an attack by a bat, the key predatory threat to this insect. Bats use echolocation, a type of sonar detection, in order to hunt at night: an extraordinary skill in itself. Found in the southwestern United States, the moth can hear the sonar signals sent out by the bat. In effect, the moth releases 4,500 clicks per second, which jam the bat’s sonar ability the way jammers can block phone signals. According to a study released in PLOS ONE, the clicking technique works 93% of the time and cause hunting bats to swerve in the opposite direction. This is the only animal, known to science, that is able to measure and block a predator’s sonar signals.

-Image by iStockphoto/jstephenmeese
-Image by iStockphoto/catchthejiffy
-Image by iStockphoto/cozoe 
-Image by iStockphoto/Doctor_Bass 
-Image by Aaron Corcoran

Ailsa Sachdev is an editorial intern at Sierra. She is a rising senior at Mount Holyoke College and spent the last semester reporting on witchcraft in Morocco. She is passionate about food and travel, and knows "I'm hungry" in over 10 languages.

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This post has been corrected.

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