August 4, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Weightlifters No Match for Insects

For Olympic season, here are more comparisons between human and animal capabilities.

WeightliftingThe BBC News showed that, as remarkable as it is for a human to lift 2 or 3 times his body weight, leaf-cutter ants do better: 50x their body weight – and they’re not even contenders for the gold.  A male rhinoceros beetle can lift 850 times its own weight – equivalent to a human world champion “lifting six double-decker buses weighing over 8000 kg.”  There’s more: “But, the species to beat is a tiny mite that has been shown holding forces of up to 1180 times its weight and even pull 530 times its weight on a vertical surface.”

Sharpshooting:  The same BBC News article included a video of an archer fish hitting its target in the air from underwater, accurate up to 2 meters.  “This expert in ballistics even allows for the curving of the jet through gravity, and adjusts for the way light bends at the boundary between light and air, which appears to shift the position of its target.”   Blood-spitting cobras are pretty accurate with their shots, too.

Boxing:  Animal contenders in the boxing ring include male brown hares and kangaroos, who fight as courtship displays.  As reported here June 13, mantis shrimp have the fastest punch known in the animal kingdom, 23 meters per second.

Wrestling:  Champion animal wrestlers include red deer and stag beetles, with their “grand antlers and branching jaws” that lock during combat.  A video clip shows a beetle wrestling match.

Swimming: Dolphins have the best skin suits to reduce drag, the BBC News said, with thick blubber for a sleek look.  But it would be hard to beat penguin suits, that glide along through a skin of bubbles.  As for long distance records, remember the polar bear that was observed swimming nine days nonstop? (1/25/2011).

In other animal news:

Elephants emit long-distance infrasound signals using the same vibrating larynx mechanism as humans, Science Daily reported.  Scientists determined this by testing the actual larynx of an elephant that had recently died of natural causes.

Bird airlines:  Migrating birds keep remarkable time, PhysOrg reported.  Songbirds as common as the wood thrush” follow a strict annual schedule when migrating to their breeding grounds – with some birds departing on precisely the same date each year.”  A scientist at York University remarked, Much like airplanes, there are many factors that can influence birds’ flight schedules, such as weather at departure and expected conditions at the other end of the journey. Amazingly, these small songbirds are highly consistent in their timing between years.”

These are wonderful stories that call for a film or Powerpoint presentation by someone.  A good entry was the Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution series.  Nature is filled with even more captivating events for us human spectators.  Cheer on our animal champions!




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