Meet Mother Nature's version of Marvel's Justice League: From the shape-shifting octopus that changes color (and even texture) at the first inkling of danger, to the lighting quick cheetah that runs faster than a speeding b*llet, the natural world is full of animals with super hero powers that put Iron Man to shame. Click to meet these marvels that do everything from spewing boiling hot p*ison to turning invisible.
OCTOPUS: Shape-shifting, invisibility
This deep sea shape-shifter is equipped with the best defenses Mother Nature has to offer. The eight-tentacled wonder hides from potential predators in plain sight using its amazing powers of camouflage. It uses pigment cells and specialized muscles to adopt the color, pattern and texture of its surroundings – making it all but invisible. If discovered, the wily creature spews a cloud of ink that both creates a diversion so it can flee, AND dulls its attacker's senses making it harder to track. As a last resort, the fast-swimming octopus can morph its body to squeeze through narrow cracks and crevices, or give up a limb if nabbed and grow a new one later. Bottom line – don't mess with it.
GECKO: Anti-gravity glue grip feet
The gecko – nature’s Spiderman – has many special powers, including its own specialized chirping language decipherable only to others in its family and among its defensive arsenal is the ability to shed its tail should a potential captor latch on. The tiny lizard also has a built in feces catapult reflex to repel attackers. But the gecko's most celebrated super power is anti-gravitational suction toes that allow it easily to climb up vertical surfaces and even across ceilings. But it's not a sticky web that gives the gecko its power - it is a complex system of microscopic hair-like strands called setae clustered on each toe that trigger a molecular pull allowing the gecko to adhere to (almost) any surface. The lizard does, however, have a Kryptonite - it can't stick to Teflon.
PUFFERFISH: Inflatability, d**dly poison
Don't be fooled by its cute face. The pufferfish, also called the blowfish, may not blessed with speed or agility, but the unassuming and clumsy fish has the miraculous skill if increasing its size by several times to intimidate potential predators. The fish has a stretchy, elastic stomach, and "inflates" by gulping water and air to morph into a ball. Pufferfish, though considered a delicacy in Japan (think fugu), is also highly poisonous. The fish contains the toxic tetrodotoxin, a p*ison up to 1,200 times more p*isonous than cyanide and always fatal to humans. In fact, one fish holds enough poison to k*ll 30 adult humans.
Chameleons are in the running for best superhero costume of the animal kingdom – and they don’t even need to rush into a phone booth before making a quick change to hues of brown, black, gold, green and even pink or turquoise. The unique ability to blend in with their natural surroundings, thanks to special skin cells called chromatophores, makes these lizards incredibly difficult for predators to spot. Chameleons are also master climbers and have stereoscopic vision, allowing them to zero in on their prey with warp speed.
CHEETAH: Speed on land
This cool cat is the fastest land mammal on earth, with the ability to go from 0 to 60 mph in just 3 seconds. Its speed, coupled with its razor-sharp eyesight, let cheetah terrorize the grasslands in which it lives h*nting for pr*y -- and earn it the status of super beast.
PEREGRINE FALCON: Speed in air
Faster than a speeding b*llet - you betcha! Superman's got nothing on this rad raptor. Equipped with a razor sharp beak and talons, peregrine falcons – also known as duck hawks – are the fastest-flying birds on earth. They mate for life, meaning the birds pair off in dynamic duos that bring d**th from above to their pr*y – bats, songbirds and ducks – at speeds of up to 200 mph.
SEA DRAGON: Camouflage
Is it flora or fauna? To hungry pr*dators, it's almost impossible to pick out the well-disguised sea dragon from the plants in which it lives. The sea dragon has some of nature's most elaborate camouflage costumes. The graceful creature floats through the leafy seaweed on the ocean floor and looks just like the gently waving kelp. The willowy sea dragons live in waters off south and east Australia – and may or may not be pictured above. Like we said, flora or fauna? It's tough to tell.
TARSIER: Night vision
These huge, freakish eyes see all. The tasier's eyeballs are each as big as its brain (about 16 mm in diameter) and allow the tiny nocturnal primate to h*nt by night. The critters – which have been endangered in recent years – are native to East and South Asian Island areas and its estimated only 5,000 to 10,000 still exist. The minuscule creature also has acute hearing, thanks to its oversized ears – and reminiscent of "The Exorcist," is able to swivel its head 180 degrees in either direction to seek out its prey. On other words, you can run, but you can't hide.
This awkward duck-mammal may seem an unlikely animal super hero, but don’t be fooled! The web-footed creature has an amazing sixth sense: electoreception. This power allows the platypus – which has poor vision – to detect prey by sensing electric fields generated by muscle movement. Translation – even in a dark room wearing a blindfold and ear plugs, the platypus will hunt you down. Animals with this power are called monotremes. They're also naturally packing some powerful heat: sharp v*n*mous talons on their heels allow the platypus to deliver a toxic kick to predators in hot pursuit, so moral – keep your distance.
DOLPHINS: Ultrasonic hearing
Dolphins look like they’re smiling, and the 1960s TV show “Flipper” cemented their reputation as affable, social sea mammals with a keen ability to communicate with humans. But it’s their mode of communicating among their own pods that makes them special. Dolphins have super-developed hearing and can detect frequencies at least ten times above what most humans hear – and, they hear with their teeth! Dolphin teeth function like well-tuned antenna and serve the dolphin like an internal GPS system.
RHINOCEROS BEETLE: Amazing strength
It's the tiny tank of the insect world. The Rhinoceros Beetle is considered the world’s strongest creature and can carry up to 850 times its own body weight. Comparably, a human would have to lift about 65 tons to match the minuscule bug's might. The beetle’s name is inspired by its fierce horn – and it's not just ornamental. Like gladiators in the ring, male beetles use them joust to over mates – may the best beetle win.
HUMMINGBIRD: Helicopter hover flight
Hummingbirds have wings that beat so fast – up to 90 times per second – that they can hover in mid-air. They’re also the only birds in the animal kingdom that can fly backwards. How do they get so much energy for their feats? Their diet consists of super-sweet nectar, which they must consume about every 10 minutes, as well as insects and spiders for protein. Watch out, Peter Parker.
SPITTLE BUG: World's greatest leaper
Superman leaps tall buildings in a single bound- a feat the little spittle bug can match. Also called the froghopper, this tiny .2-inch insect can hurl itself a whopping 28-inches. Doing so, it catapults itself with a force 400 times greater than gravity - compared to the 2 to 3 times humans use. They're called spittle bugs because vulnerable young bugs hide from predators in a mucus cocoon expectorate - just one more reason they've made our list of super critters.
FLYING SQUIRREL: It flies!
For these tree-dwelling rodents, the sky’s really the limit. Flying squirrels don’t really fly – they glide from tree to tree. These amazing rodents have been known to glide for over 200 feet before landing. The tautness of the patagium, the webbed-parachute-like membrane keeps them in the air and their tail acts as a brake.
ARCHERFISH: Expert sharp-sh*oter
If Green Arrow had gills, he would likely be dubbed the archerfish, a zebra-like underwater dweller that can be found in salt and fresh water. The archerfish is an expert marksman and preys not in its own water world, but on land-based insects. The sharp-sh**ting fish has a unique talent is as able to pick off its marks with quick f*re spit att*cks up to six feet away. The fish fires off water droplets using its limber tongue and strong gills, which allow it to sh**t a stream of water from beneath the water's surface. Its keen eyesight allows it to target its prey, even through the refracted light of the water. Of course, like Green Arrow, the archerfish doesn't rely on its keen eyesight alone - it can also leap from the water to snatch up insects if they make the mistake of coming too close.
SEA CUCUMBER: Body liquefication
When the sea cucumber senses danger, it melts – literally. These oblong echinoderms are able to loosen or tighten their outer body armor at will – allowing them squeeze through tiny cracks and pour into narrow crevices to take shelter from en*mies.
MOTH: Love connector
Next Valentine’s Day, forget Cupid – consider employing a moth in your quest to find love. The winged insects – there are thought to be as many as 250,000 different species – emit chemicals called pheromones in order to attract and find the opposite s*x, even from miles away. There’s also their penchant for candlelight, which some scientists believe is because candle flames send out waves of light in vibrations similar to how female moths send out their pheremones. Whew … is it getting hot in here?
ELECTRIC EEL: Zaps adversaries with electric shocks
This slithery sparker is isn’t actually an eel. It’s a knifefish. The electric eel uses its current to incapacitate its prey. These shocks aren’t just tiny tingles either. An electric eel is capable of producing a 500 volt shock – enough to k*ll an adult human. They also use these shocks to protect themselves from predators.
ALDABRA GIANT TORTOISE: Immortality (well, nearly)
If slow and steady wins the race, then it’s no wonder why this tortoise can live to be nearly 200 years old. Zookeepers in India believe their tortoise, who d**d in 2006, was 255 years old. Esmeralda, an Aldabra Giant Tortoise celebrated her 170th birthday on Bird Island in the Seychelles. They can weigh as much as 600 lbs – but despite that heft are excellent swimmers.
SEA STAR: Limb regeneration
Starfish, or sea stars, fend off predators with bony body armor and also come in a rainbow of colors to blend in with their sea environments – but when they are injured or m*til*ted, the echinoderms possess the miraculous power to grow new limbs. They have more in common perhaps with a horror flick zombie that just w*n’t d** than a comic caper super hero. A new sea star can grow even from one severed limb. It would be the stuff of freaky sci-fi if it weren’t true.
BATS: Echolocation, hyper-healing
Besides the fact that bats are they only mammal that truly flies – they possess an ultrasonic echolocation power that allows them to discern the layout of a pitch black room and to locate hidden prey. The bat’s wings are very thin – allowing for precise and sharp maneuvers – they beat birds by a long shot for flight skills. The thin membrane of webbing on the wings heals quickly if torn and its echo powers are highly sophisticated. The bat emits a sound intended to create an echo – the bat measures the pulse, and creates a mental blueprint of its surroundings.
LEAF CUTTER ANT: Amazing strength
These tiny powerhouses are the Incredible Hulks of the insect world. These ants can carry up to 20 times their own weight and have powerfully sharp jaws that tear through leaves with the greatest of ease. The ants carry large pieces of leaves to their nests in order to create the fungus that sustains them. In its lifetime, a colony of these ants may move over 20 tons of soil.