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Natureman Talks: Animal Superheroes

It fascinates me how many superheroes (and villains) are based around animals and their unique abilities. BATman, SPIDERman, ANTman - its clear that the animal kingdom highly influences the creators of the superheroes we see on the big screen. What's interesting is that there are a huge number of animals with real superpowers!

Spider Man

Spiderman is a favourite, and rightfully so. He can cast webs and swing through the city, which makes him so popular; real (non-radioactive) spiders, of course, have this ability.

Real spiders don't need to swing from building to building; they can fly away! Ballooning (or kiting) is where a spider releases a long strand of silk; its surface area can get caught in the wind and has enough force for the spider to become airborne!

Silk is regarded as one of the most robust materials on earth and has a stronger tensile strength than steel (its density is 1/6th of steel). It's so light that a strand going around the earth would only weigh 500g and to lift a human; the silk would only need to be 0.9mm thick!

The golden orb-web spider (a species widespread throughout the tropics) has the strongest silk, and its web can catch birds! Tribal peoples harvest the web and use it as a fishing line!

My favourite Spiderman story is where the spider D.N.A. starts to corrupt Peter Parker, and he slowly turns into a giant man-spider!


Thor doesn't have a direct animal for his inspiration, but surprisingly, some animals can produce light and electricity. Bioluminescence is relatively common in the natural world. Fungi and jellyfish can glow when required, and even here in the U.K., you can encounter glowworms (they are, in fact, beetle larvae). Glowing generally aids in locating each other. Some deep-sea shrimp have a bioluminescent smoke screen to confuse predators.

However, the animal that gives the greatest shock is the electric eel (it's not an eel but is more closely related to a knifefish); they produce an alternating current of up to 860 volts! For reference, the socket in your wall will give 120-240 volts, and a taser will produce 1200 volts.

However, there's another animal that even tops the electric eel. The small and unassuming pistol shrimp has another unique ability. It has one very small and one massive claw. The giant claw can snap shut with such tremendous force it creates an air bubble, which then collapses into itself, the pressure results in a blast of light and temperatures of 8000F! That's close to the temperature of the sun's surface! If that's not a superpower, then I don't know what it is!


Wolverine has always been a popular character, rough around the edges with a bad attitude and never willing to back away from a fight.

Wolverines are the largest land-dwelling mustelid, fundamentally a giant stoat. Up to 25kg in weight, they are a force to be reckoned with. When I think of tough, scrappy animals, only one other spring to mind: the Ratel (honey badger). These African animals have got a reputation that's fully deserved. They will attack lions, leopards and even passing 4x4 jeeps! They can take cobra bites as a minor inconvenience.

The character Wolverine has super healing powers, too, and he's also got a metal skeleton made of the fictional adamantium. Believe it or not, animals have metal parts of their body! The tropical leaf-cutting ants have a tough job chewing through the leaves of trees and other plants; their jaws need to be kept super sharp, and they achieve this by having their jaws reinforced with zinc and manganese infused with proteins. The metal can take up to 20% of their body weight in some species!

Jean Grey

Jean Grey is a psychic character; she can sense others' feelings and locate people; there are animals with similar superpowers, too. Dolphins have a highly developed echolocation ability; they can see through the density of objects, including us! A pregnant woman swimming with dolphins often gets extra attention from the animals. Dolphin sonar will allow them to see the developing baby inside the woman, which piques their interest! There are even cases where dolphins have assisted with the human's birth! What is spectacular is that dolphins communicate via echolocation, and evidence suggests that they may use a 'sono-pictorial' or 'holographic' language, meaning that one dolphin can put a picture or idea into another dolphin's head!! Imagine that! Because if a dolphin can, they can share that thought!

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