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7 Freaky Animal Organs That Would Give You Superpowers

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If fuzzy action movie science worked in real life, becoming a brand-new superhero would—with a little help from the animal kingdom—just be a quick organ transplant away.

1. Slime Your Enemies with Special Hagfish Skin Glands.

Getting bitten by a shark would scare the feces out of most people, but it doesn’t even faze these cryptic scavengers. That’s because, within half a second of being attacked, hagfish secrete a cloud of thick, fibrous mucous that clogs the mouth and gills of any predator foolish enough to bother them.

2. Use Avian Air Sacs to Breathe at Superhuman Altitudes.

Breathe out. Congratulations, you’ve just wasted a load of perfectly good oxygen! Our feathered friends, meanwhile, don’t have this problem. When birds respire, air is pushed through a complicated series of air sacs which feed into the lungs, allowing them to collect and absorb oxygen far more effectively than we can. This system also allows them to merrily flutter about at heights that would suffocate even the toughest human mountain-climbers.

Sadly, however, birds have their own version of kryptonite, and its name is air pollution. At times, avians breathe a bit too efficiently for their own good, making them particularly vulnerable to atmospheric toxins.

3. Wood Frog Livers Could Help You Survive Being Frozen.

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Each winter, as much as 60 percent of a wood frog’s body becomes completely frozen. Still more mind-boggling is the fact that their hearts actually stop beating during the colder months. How could any creature survive this? Copious quantities of glucose—which acts as a natural antifreeze—are mass-produced by the amphibian’s liver and sent into the veins to help prevent ice from forming there. 

4. Taste Your Opponents from Several Yards Away with a Serpentine Vomeronasal Organ.

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Have you ever wondered why snakes have forked tongues? Strange as it might sound, all animals (including us) leave trails of microscopic taste particles lingering in the air. Flicking serpent tongues have evolved to intercept them: Upon being retracted, both prongs are inserted into the mouth’s vomeronasal organ, where this data is analyzed. Tracking rodents over great distances, therefore, becomes child’s play.

5. Detect Electrical Fields with Platypus Snouts.

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It’s hard to imagine how platypuses could get any weirder, what with their egg-laying, beaver tails, and poisonous feet. But even those duck-like mouths are stranger than you might expect. While hunting underwater, a platypus uses sensitive glands on its bill to help locate the minor electrical fields generated by moving invertebrates.

6. Get HD Vision with Mantis Shrimp Eyes.

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You, like many creatures, have binocular vision, meaning that you perceive depth when both of your eyes work together to focus on the same object. Yet, helpful as they are, our visual organs can’t compete with this Pacific crustacean’s. For starters, mantis shrimps can use not one, not two, but three separate regions of their eyes to stare at a given subject, giving them amazing “tri-nocular” vision. 

But that’s not all! They’re also able to see circularly-polarized light (the sort with which 3D films are made), an ability the vast majority of animals lack. In fact, scientists believe that the mantis shrimp’s spectacular eyesight could help us develop higher-definition CDs, DVDs, and holographic images.

7. Use a Bombardier Beetle’s Rear End to Fire Off a Blast of Scalding Liquid.

Those bad guys don’t stand a chance. Bombardier beetles greet would-be predators with a face-full of boiling, corrosive liquid that’s sprayed from their abdomens at a frightening speed. Amazingly, though the insects depend on specialized internal glands to produce this frightening reaction, they’re left completely unscathed afterwards.

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Animals
14 Fascinating Facts About Foxes
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Foxes live on every continent except Antarctica and thrive in cities, towns, and rural settings. But despite being all around us, they’re a bit of a mystery. Here’s more about this elusive animal.

1. Foxes Are Solitary.

Foxes are part of the Canidae family, which means they’re related to wolves, jackals, and dogs. They’re medium-sized, between 7 and 15 pounds, with pointy faces, lithe frames, and bushy tails. But unlike their relatives, foxes are not pack animals. When raising their young, they live in small families—called a “leash of foxes” or a “skulk of foxes”—in underground burrows. Otherwise, they hunt and sleep alone.

2. Foxes Have A Lot In Common With Cats.

Like the cat, the fox is most active after the sun goes down. In fact, it has vertically oriented pupils that allow it to see in dim light. It even hunts in a similar manner to a cat, by stalking and pouncing on its prey.

And that’s just the beginning of the similarities. Like the cat, the fox has sensitive whiskers and spines on its tongue. It walks on its toes, which accounts for its elegant, cat-like tread. And—get this—many foxes have retractable claws that allow them to climb rooftops or trees. Some foxes even sleep in trees—just like cats.

3. The Red Fox Is The Most Common Fox.

The red fox has the widest geographical range of any animal in the order Carnivora. While its natural habitat is a mixed landscape of scrub and woodland, its flexible diet allows it to adapt to many environments. As a result, its range is the entire Northern Hemisphere, from the Arctic Circle to North Africa to Central America to the Asiatic steppes. It’s also in Australia, where it’s considered an invasive species.

4. Foxes Use The Earth’s Magnetic Field.

Like a guided missile, the fox harnesses the earth’s magnetic field to hunt. Other animals, like birds, sharks, and turtles, have this “magnetic sense,” but the fox is the first one we’ve discovered that uses it to catch prey.

According to New Scientist, the fox can see the earth’s magnetic field as a “ring of shadow” on its eyes that darkens as it heads towards magnetic north. When the shadow and the sound the prey is making line up, it’s time to pounce. Here’s the fox in action:

5. Foxes Are Good Parents.

Foxes reproduce once a year. Litters range from one to 11 pups (the average is six), which are born blind and don’t open their eyes until nine days after birth. During that time, they stay with the vixen (female) in the den while the dog (male) brings them food. They live with their parents until they're seven months old. The vixen protects her pups with surprising loyalty. Recently, a fox pup was caught in a trap in England for two weeks, but survived because its mother brought it food every day.

6. The Smallest Fox Weighs Under 3 Pounds.

Roughly the size of a kitten, the fennec fox has elongated ears and a creamy coat. It lives in the Sahara Desert, where it sleeps during the day to protect it from the searing heat. Its ears not only allow it to hear prey, they also radiate body heat, which keeps the fox cool. Its paws are covered with fur so that the fox can walk on hot sand, like it’s wearing snowshoes.

7. Foxes Are Playful.

Foxes are known to be friendly and curious. They play among themselves as well as with other animals like cats and dogs. They love balls, which they frequently steal from golf courses.

Although foxes are wild animals, their relationship with humans goes way back. In 2011, researchers opened a grave in a 16,500-year-old cemetery in Jordan to find the remains of a man and his pet fox. This was 4000 years before the first-known human and dog were buried together.

8. You Can Buy A Pet Fox.

In the 1960s, a Soviet geneticist named Dmitry Belyaev bred thousands of foxes before achieving a domesticated fox. Unlike a tame fox, which has learned to tolerate humans, a domesticated fox is docile toward people from birth. Today, you can buy a pet fox for $9000, according to Fast Company. They’re reportedly curious and sweet-tempered, although inclined to dig in your furniture.

9. Arctic Foxes Don’t Shiver Until –70 degrees Celsius.

The arctic fox, which lives in the northernmost areas of the hemisphere, can handle cold better than most animals on earth. It doesn’t even get cold until –70 degrees Celsius. Its white coat also camouflages it against predators. As the seasons change, the coat changes too, turning brown or gray so the fox can blend in with the rocks and dirt of the tundra.

10. Fox Hunting Continues To Be Controversial.

Perhaps because of the fox’s ability to decimate a chicken coop, in the 16th century, fox hunting became a popular activity in Britain. In the 19th century, the upper classes turned fox hunting into a formalized sport where a pack of hounds and men on horseback chase a fox until it is killed. Today, whether to ban fox hunting continues to be a controversial subject in the UK. Currently, fox hunting with dogs is not allowed.

11. The Fox Appears Throughout Folklore.

Examples include: the nine-tail fox from various Asian cultures; the Reynard tales from medieval Europe; the sly trickster fox from Native American lore; and Aesop’s “The Fox and the Crow.” The Finnish believed a fox made the Northern Lights by running in the snow so that its tail swept sparks into the sky. From this, we get the phrase “fox fires.”

12. Bat-eared Foxes Listen For Insects.

The bat-eared fox is aptly named, not just because of its 5-inch ears, but because of what it uses those ears for—like the bat, it listens for insects. On a typical night, the fox walks along the African Savannah, listening, until it hears the scuttle of prey. Although the fox eats a variety of insects and lizards, most of its diet is made up of termites. In fact, the bat-eared fox often makes its home in termite mounds, which it usually cleans out of inhabitants before moving in.

13. Darwin Discovered A Fox Species.

During his voyage on the Beagle, Charles Darwin collected a fox that today is unimaginatively called Darwin’s Fox. This small gray fox is critically endangered and lives in just two spots in the world: One population is on Island of Chiloé in Chile, and the second is in a Chilean national park. The fox’s greatest threats are unleashed domestic dogs that carry diseases like rabies.

14. Foxes Sound Like This.

Foxes make 40 different sounds, some of which you can listen to here. The most startling is the scream:

Pleasant dreams!

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise stated.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

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