The Real X-Men of the Animal Kingdom

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By Dia Ascenzi

No, they’re not necessarily mutants in the comic book sense, but seeing as how evolution by natural selection relies on quite a bit of mutation over time, these freakish bad boys have evolved some especially neat-o traits that would make even Professor Xavier nod in approval. While genetic mutations in humans do exist, they’re nothing as epic as the X-Men. Super-mutants with the power to manipulate metal, conjure fire, or read minds, simply can’t happen. There are some in the animal kingdom, however, that do have traits that are comparable to the uncanny, amazing, astonishing X-Men—traits that, if possessed by humans, would be absolutely terrifying.

Komodo dragon

Komodo dragons are the largest lizards in the world today, males averaging 8-9 feet (some as long as 10 feet) and about 200 pounds. They have long claws, and rough, durable skin, reinforced with bony, armor-like plates called osteoderms. They’re predators, (they hunt freaking buffalo), and can run up to 13 miles per hour, but prefer to hunt in stealth. They can see objects at almost 1000 feet, according to the Smithsonian Zoo, and use their sense of smell as their primary food detector.

But these characteristics, while impressive, are not what got the Komodo dragon a spot on this list. They also have a nasty bite. Their mouth is full of septic pathogens like E. Coli and Staphylococcus (Staph), causing infection to prey when bitten. It is also a mystery how the Komodo dragon can be unharmed by such nasty bacteria in their mouths.

That’s only half of it. If the infection doesn’t get you, Komodo dragons also have venomous saliva. Researchers have found two salivary glands in the Komodo dragon’s lower jaw, and have found that these glands secrete toxic proteins.

The theory that these glands serve to infect prey is currently disputed, as there are other functions that venom-secreting glands can serve in animals. The fact that Komodo dragons also have bacteria in their mouth means that could be the only reason for infection--not the venom. But I’m not going to go get bit to find out.

Pistol shrimp and mantis shrimp

These next two guys are so small that we’re fitting them both into the same group. They’re both shrimp, afterall. They are the pistol shrimp and the mantis shrimp, or Pokémon of the sea, as I like to call them.

The pistol shrimp, or Alpheidae, is a family of snapping shrimp. They have a massive claw that snaps shut at about 62 miles per hour, firing a bullet of bubbles at around 105 feet a second. The real power comes from the pressure of the displaced water rushing back in to refill the bubbles. The power generated renders their prey unconscious, or kills them. The sound this snap makes is louder than a gunshot, at 210 decibels (a gunshot is about 150 decibels).

This shrimp would be quite a threat, if it weren’t so small. They are only 1 to 2 inches. Imagine the terror that would ensue if they were, say, 1 to 2 feet. They would be knocking out sharks.

The mantis shrimp, or Stomatopod, is perhaps more terrifying. Much larger than the pistol shrimp, the largest one ever caught was about 18 inches. These little guys have two differentiations. One type has two spear-like appendages that, at close range, spear their enemies to death.

The second type is the one that will give me nightmares. It has two appendages at the front of its body that can accelerate at the same velocity as a gunshot from a .22 caliber rifle. Their limbs move so fast that they boil the water around them, and this force even emits a tiny burst of light. The force of this punch is so huge that the main cause of death to their prey is dismemberment. Their punch can even kill if it misses. The mantis shrimp is basically a tiny Hitmonchan.

The mantis shrimp can’t be kept in tanks with other creatures, because they often kill whatever they share a tank with. Mantis shrimps typically can’t be kept in tanks at all, because they can shatter the glass surrounding them in one punch. You think I’m kidding? Here is a video of a mantis shrimp breaking through glass to get to its prey. Nope.

Mimic octopus

The mimic octopus, or Thaumoctopus mimicus, is—you guessed it—an octopus that can mimic other sea creatures. Mimicry is no strange occurrence in nature. Many species mimic others. But the mimic octopus is the only species known to mimic more than one species, and its skill at this mimicry is uncanny. You can see for yourself in this video.

The mimic octopus can impersonate a lionfish, sea snake, flat fish, and even a jellyfish. It’s a forager and a hunter, so don’t think for a second that it only uses its powers for good. This octopus is the real-life Mystique of the sea.

Hairy frog

The hairy frog, or Trichobatrachus robustus, is better known as the Horror Frog, or wolverine frog. These little guys break their own bones to produce claws. When being attacked, the hairy frog can contract its toe muscle, breaking off the tip of the bone in its toe, and forcing it through its skin, forming a makeshift claw. In truth, it is not an actual claw, as claws are covered in a coat of keratin, but is in fact just a broken piece of bone.

As the name suggests, the hairy frog has hair-like dermal papillae. These are small extensions of dermis into the epidermis. Frogs that can sprout claws on demand and are covered with hair… Does that remind you of someone you know? Maybe a no-nonsense X-Man who is the best at what he does?

Platypus

The platypus, or Ornithorhynchus anatinus, has a sixth sense: electroreception. Electroreception is the ability to sense electricity generated by the muscle contractions of their prey. The platypus’ electroreceptors are located in its adorable bill. Perhaps the reason there isn’t an X-man called the Platypus is that it would be just too darn cute.

The use of electroreception to locate prey is known as electrolocation. While other monotremes have this ability, the platypus has the most acute sense of electrolocation by far. If fact, when diving for food, the platypus closes its eyes, ears, and nose, relying only on electrolocation to distinguish living things from inanimate objects.

Any of these abilities, if possessed by a human, would certainly be like something out of the X-men. Until then, us humans have to settle for being normal, in comparison.