7 Ridiculous Feats of Strength in the Animal Kingdom


♩ In the strongman competition of the animal
kingdom, you might know some of the usual contenders. Like the crocodile with its brutal bite force,
and the leafcutter ant with its overhead carry, or the ox with its pulling power. But when it comes to strength, it’s not
all about big muscles. So here are 7 animals who have surprisingly
powerful abilities and use them in surprising ways. In the forests of the Democratic Republic
of the Congo, there’s a small creature that can bear enormous weights: the hero shrew. The local Mangbetu people showed off its strength
to visiting naturalists in 1910 by having a grown man stand on its back for several
minutes. When he stepped off, the shrew scurried away
unharmed. What makes the hero shrew so strong is its
unique spinal column — especially its lumbar, or lower back, vertebrae. Most shrews have 5 round lumbar vertebrae
with 2 spinal processes each, the bony projections on the back of each vertebrae. But the hero shrew has 10 to 12 thicker vertebrae
with up to 20 processes each, letting the bones tightly lock together, which makes the
spine more rigid. That means it doesn’t twist as easily or
creep, which is engineering speak for deform under pressure. In fact, scientists have estimated that the
hero shrew’s spine is 4 times stronger than any other vertebrate. Plus, the group of muscles that connect the
spine to the hips and thigh bone, the iliopsoas, are larger than in other shrews or rats. Scientists think the hero shrew’s spine
might act like a crowbar to pry away tough outer palm tree leaves, so it can reach juicy
beetle larvae that no other predator can. But it’s still a bit of an evolutionary
mystery. In 2013, scientists uncovered a new species
called the Thor hero shrew. It also has a tightly interlocking spine,
but only 8 lumbar vertebrae and fewer, but bigger, spinal processes. They think it could be a transitional form,
or a species that lies between ancient and modern forms. But still, no one has done tests on the Thor
Hero Shrew to figure out just how strong it is. And researchers still aren’t sure what selective
pressures drove the evolution of such a ridiculously strong spine. The Northern clingfish is found in the salty
waters of the Pacific Northwest in the United States. And it does what its name suggests — it
clings onto stuff using a single suction cup on the underside of its body. It especially hangs onto rocks in the intertidal
zone, the area that’s above water at low tide and underwater at high tide. This zone has its perks: waves supply new
nutrients and oxygen and there’s quite a bit of algae to go around as food for animals
living there. But it can be pretty rough, too. The currents coming in and out mean animals
might get battered around if they don’t have a good way to stay stuck. The Northern clingfish only weighs between
1.5 and 15 grams, so you might not think it’s that impressive that it can hold onto a rock. But, in experiments, this little fish could
cling onto and lift rocks 200 times its body weight. The secret to this passive strength is that
clingfish suction cups are covered in microscopic little bumps or papillae, which are covered
in even tinier little hairs or microvilli. Unlike the smooth edges of a, say, plastic
suction cups, the rough edges of the clingfish’s cup produce friction or can squeeze into little
cracks. That way, it can hold on to all kinds of surfaces,
whether they’re dry, slippery, or rough. They can even use their suction cups to pry
aquatic snails called limpets off rocks as a snack! The saying “pick on someone your own size”
isn’t really true in the animal kingdom. Most predators hunt prey that’s around 20
to 50 percent of their body mass. But the five species of kingsnakes eat prey
the same size or larger than them, all thanks to their strong constriction powers. In fact, kingsnakes are the strongest constrictors
of all snakes by body weight. They can squeeze at 180 millimeters of mercury. For comparison, your blood pressure might
be around 120 millimeters of mercury. So if a kingsnake squeezed you hard enough,
your heart couldn’t pump blood. What’s strange is that kingsnake muscles
aren’t shockingly thicker or anything so their strength might have to do with how they
coil. Unlike other snakes which are messy coilers,
kingsnakes wrap their bodies around their prey in a neat spiral shape. That maximizes force and reduces the need
to wriggle around and readjust its grip, leading to more consistent pressure. And even though their muscles aren’t huge,
they can stay contracted for hours at a time somehow. But it’s not like kingsnakes bite off more
than they can chew. They have a way to squeeze big prey inside
a smaller digestive tract. Kingsnakes do what’s called a pterygoid
walk, where they bite down with one side of their mouth at a time to maneuver the prey
in. That forces the prey’s spinal column to
bend and compress like a paper fan to fit. If only I could do that with a whole pizza. Copepods are a group of small crustaceans
that range in size from 0.2 to 20 millimeters in length. Some are planktonic and drift around in the
ocean, feeding on other tiny things. So you might not expect that copepods have
one of the most powerful jumps on the planet at least 10 times more powerful than the
average land vertebrate. When they’re threatened by fish or when
they want to ambush their prey, they’ll launch forward at speeds of up to 500 body
lengths per second. For comparison, the cheetah runs at speeds
of around 16 body lengths per second. But its speed isn’t nearly as impressive
as the strength of its jump. It come in between 500 and 1500 Newtons per
kilogram of muscle, depending on the species. For an estimated comparison, NBA player Dwight
Howard generates around 112 Newtons for every kilogram of muscle when he jumps. And copepods actually jump kind of like we
do. They strike backwards rapidly with their four
or five pairs of pereiopods, or swimming legs, and push off the water. Scientists think that copepods’ muscle-limb
lever system is arranged differently to land vertebrates. And it’s helped by an exoskeleton that muscles
can attach themselves to. Exactly what that lever system looks like
is still a bit of a mystery, because no one has really dissected the teeny tiny legs of
a copepod. The secretary bird is up there on the list
of birds that are more intense than they look. It uses its long legs to knock out or kill
snakes that are trying to attack it, or lizards that it will later gobble up. And a study published in the journal Current
Biology in 2016 revealed just how powerful this bird’s legs are. Researchers tested Madeline, a secretary bird
at the Hawk Conservancy Trust in the UK, who’s been trained to kick rubber snakes for shows. A force plate lying under the rubber snake
measured Madeline’s kicks at 195 Newtons, equivalent to 5 times the bird’s own body
weight. Unlike copepods pushing off of water, secretary
birds don’t have anything to push against to generate their powerful kicks — they
do it from standing. And these kicks are also fast. Madeline’s foot only touched the ground
for 15 milliseconds. Because the strike time is so short, scientists
think secretary birds rely on a feed-forward motor control system. It’s kind of like when you go to reach for
something on a shelf. You see the object, your brain sets the target,
and then it coordinates your shoulder, elbow, and wrist to make it happen. The birds’ brains can predict where the
snake is going to be before striking, and coordinate the movement of their long legs. And their visual system is similar to birds
of prey, giving them a sharp view of their target. The loggerhead shrike might look like an adorable
little sparrow. But once you know its eating habits, you might
think twice about calling it cute. It has a falcon-like bill with a sharp tip,
and pierces the neck of its prey to paralyze it — from insects and lizards to small mammals
and even other birds. Then, the shrike will impale its prey on a
sharp object like a bit of fence or tree branch. That makes it easier to eat — like a corndog
at the fair. It’s gruesome meal-prep tactics earned it
the nickname “butcherbird.” Sometimes though, for larger prey, the loggerhead
shrike really needs to use its strength. It bites down on its prey’s neck and shakes
its head violently from side to side at a speed of 11 times per second. That generates an acceleration force of 6g,
which is about what someone in a low speed car crash might feel. And scientists think it has the power to snap
the necks or spines of its prey. Biologists took a closer look at this shaking
behavior earlier in 2018. And they think that little ridges on the bird’s
beak, called tomial teeth, could help it hold onto its meal. But the next step is to research the loggerhead
shrike’s neck and head muscles to learn how it can generate so much force so quickly. And how they don’t snap their own neck in
the process. Now, 6g is pretty impressive. But it pales in comparison to trap jaw ants,
which have mandibles that can snap shut at speeds up to 64 meters per second — around
100,000g of acceleration. That snap generates a force around 500 times
their body weight, which is both faster and stronger than the strike of the mantis shrimp. Their jaw basically works like a catapult. Attached to each half is one large, slow muscle
that can hold the jaw open 180 degrees — ready to snap. When something touches tiny sensory hairs
on the ant’s jaw, a smaller, faster muscle is activated. This unlocks the jaws and releases the stored
energy so they snap shut. Trap-jaw ants pull out this powerful party
trick for a whole range of tasks, from injuring prey to flinging intruding ants away from
their nest. And in 2015, scientists discovered that these
ants also used their jaws to escape danger, especially the traps of the pit-building antlion. This predatory insect digs quicksand-like
holes in the sand then lurks at the bottom waiting for a meal to stumble down. As soon as a trap-jaw ant realizes it’s
tumbling down a trap, it snaps its jaws shut on the sand to push off and out of the hole. They can also do this on normal ground to
escape the speedy tongues of lizards who might want them as a snack. In an experiment, ants that had their jaws
glued shut were less likely to survive an encounter with an antlion than those that
could use their jumping powers. The researchers think this is evidence that
their jaws evolved for escape. So next time you’re at the gym, remember,
big muscles and brute force aren’t the only forms of strength. Animals can be capable of some amazing feats
of strength that give them an edge in their own unique worlds. Now, As an additional way of keeping SciShow
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100 Replies to “7 Ridiculous Feats of Strength in the Animal Kingdom”

  1. I see what you did there. "Ridiculous "feet" of strength"….

    Obviously the secretary bird would be included in a title like that ;P

  2. I never thought that in a video that has freaking king snakes and secretary birds, that I would be most terrified by a loggerhead shrike.

  3. What kind of evolutionary pressure could possibly influence shrew spine evolution? Generations of men standing on them. Lololol

  4. “We aren’t sure what evolutionary pressures lead to an absurdly strong spine”

    Idk, maybe the grown men standing on its back had something to do with it

  5. Looking at the thumbnail I thought this video was going to be about some newly discovered being with a human body and an insect head

    I got clickbaited …

  6. A European relative of the loggerhead shrike is named 'Neuntöter' in German, i e "killer of nine," due to the folkoric belief that it would kill and impale nine of its prey, before it started eating on any of them.

  7. What drove the hero shrew to evolve a spine like that? Grown men coming around and standing on its back… Obviously

  8. TIL the antlions of Half-Life 2 are real creatures. Over 10 years after playing the game. Always thought Valve had just made them up by clumsily fusing the name of the apex mammalian predator with the apex insect predator…Worst part is that I've actually seen the adults. They were just never called antlions. :/

  9. Imagine if Superman were initially inspired by these animals …
    "Faster than a mantis shrimp's strike,
    More powerful than a tidal wave,
    Able to stop your heart with a squeeze …
    … It's an ant? It's a fish? a snake?
    No, it's Superman ! :D"

  10. Creep is NOT deformation under stress (pressure). Creep is the failure of a material under temperature and forces during an extended period of time, where the material wouldn't have failed to just the temperature or just the forces.

  11. "had their jaws glued shut"
    I was surprised at how much this disturbed me. And yet, if they were fire ants, I would burn them all and not lose a moment of sleep.

    Btw, that secretary bird… she might not have even been trying.

  12. interesting fact about the trapjaw ant, the locals will use the ants heads like stitches to close a wound and then rip their bodies off to keep their jaws from opening back up.

  13. The strongest and fastest animals on earth are humans. Humans are so strong and fast that they are able to throw a 1,796-pound object completely out of the solar system at a speed of 38,610 miles per hour.

  14. You got the clingfish a bit messed up. You show the underside, some starfish, and thats it …how about showing what your talking about? Im pretty sure some people think clingfish is slang for starfish now.

  15. The Thor hero shrew strength that nobody can measure. The best you can hope for is to put it up against the Hulk hero shrew. Maybe some kind of deathmatch

  16. The conclusion that the trapjaw ants jaws evolved to facilitate escape is misleading. Evolution is incremental and nonlinear. Trapjaw Ants didn't start escaping from predators then suddenly evolve jaws that would help fling them away, this is too complex a change for selection to produce. The jaws started out as mouth parts for eating, then get applied to help with work, and the trapjaw mechanism would at first be for hunting but then after it became sufficiently forceful it would start to have applications beyond what it was originally evolved for. Spring loaded flinging face leaping would not start to be selected on until the trap jaw mechanism had already been useful for other tasks. We call this preadaptation.

  17. So basically the Trap-jaw Ant's way to escape is the insect equivalent of punching the ground really, really hard to jump.

  18. I loved this video! Its rare to find a video where I don't know the majority of the species and even the ones I did, I learned something new!

  19. I think that possibly the king snakes have specialized muscle cells and systems for removing lactic acid better, perhaps modified atp production?

  20. Correct me if I'm wrong but wouldn't the secretary bird be a bird of prey. They're basically an eagle with really long legs. Not literally mind you but you get the idea.

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