Evolution is the most creative force on the planet. Everywhere we look, we find species with novel and phenomenal adaptations that put their comic book brethren to shame. In no ecosystem is this more apparent than in the vast and unfathomable ocean. Marine species, especially those in the deep sea, have evolved to survive in a environment that is completely alien to us. Several months ago, I unveiled “Five organisms with real super powers that rival their comic book counterparts“, but that was just the beginning. Without further adieu, I give you 5 more marine organisms that put their superhero counterparts to shame (and one bonus critter).
The blind shrimp with super senses
Rimicaris exoculata – http://eol.org/data_objects/13231836
In the deep sea, eyes are not among the most useful sense organs. While many deep-sea species have extremely reduced eyes, some have abandoned these organs entirely. Rimicaris exoculata is a shrimp endemic to deep-sea hydrothermal vents in the mid-Atlantic that is completely eyeless. Its carapace is smooth, without even a hint of reduced, vestigial eyes. This, unfortunately, is a problem because Rimicaris exoculata is a farmer. The blind shrimp grows bacteria in its gill chamber, bacteria that can convert the chemical-rich hydrothermal vent fluid into food for the shrimp.
For lack of a more descriptive adjective, hydrothermal vents are hot. Some can exceed 400°C. Rimicaris exoculata needs to get close to this hot vent fluid to feed its crop of bacteria, but not so close as to become a hydrothermal hors d’oeuvre. And so, the blind shrimp evolved a completely new light-sensitive organ mounted on the top of its carapace–the rhodopsin-rich dorsal eyespot.
The dorsal eyespot of Rimicaris exoculata doesn’t “see” in the normal sense, there is still almost no light in the deep sea. Rather, this shrimp is adapted to detect the black body radiation emitted by the hydrothermal vent. For Rimicaris exoculata, the deep sea glows with the light of super-heated hydrothermal fluid, allowing it to both find food for its bacterial crop and avoid getting cooked itself.
It should be no surprise that Rimicaris exoculata is undoubtedly the favorite deep sea organism of another blind champion with super senses–Daredevil.
We interrupt our regularly scheduled marine science and conservation discussions and frequent Aquaman adulation to bring you this important announcement:
“My legs creak as I climb the stairs to our meeting room. I lean against the wall to steady myself. I could have taken the elevator, saved myself the pain, but I need to heal. I am lucky. I can still walk after the disease ravaged my body, but my legs are weak, my arms emaciated, my face scarred and hollow. I keep my body moving, to help it heal. That’s why we are all here: to heal.
I don’t know why I still come, though. I don’t get much from these meetings. They used to be comforting, but now they’re just tedious. The survivors, overcome with grief or anger or disgust, are more likely to descend into fits of rage than to open up to any of us about their experiences. They are fighters, they had to be. You didn’t survive, uninfected, by being soft. They internalized everything. Many were so consumed with guilt that they couldn’t continue. Survivor suicides are an almost daily occurrence now.”
Head over to Nature (yes, that Nature) to continue reading my freshly minted short story “The Lucky Ones” in their Futures section.
Long-time readers know that I am a dedicated fan of the one true king of Atlantis, Arthur Curry–Aquaman. Since his reboot in DC Comic’s New 52 series, Aquaman has risen above the Justice League pantheon, casually crushing his critics with humor, style, and pure, aquatic power. My original plan was to review the marine science in Aquaman, but, since the Trench, our hero has spent relatively little time in the sea. We can forgive that. Between protecting his old gang, the Others, from arch-nemesis Black Manta, and saving the surface dwellers while reclaiming his crown in Throne of Atlantis, Mr. Curry has been quite busy.
Now, with Aquaman #17, it looks like things are about to change.
“I won’t fail you again.” Aquaman #17. DC Comics.
So, this is pretty much my all time favorite piece of comic book art. I love that so many invertebrates get starring roles–colossal squid, octopuses, crustaceans of all sorts. I love that whales are relegated to the background, dolphins are barely more than shadows, and elasmobranchs other than sharks are prominently featured. Artists Paul Pelletier and Art Thebert did a fantastic job creating an ocean biodiversity tableau that shuns the Wyland-esque tropes characteristic of the genre. This is a tough, gritty Aquaman. His ocean is not all sunsets and dolphins.
This also settles the longstanding debate about Aquaman’s telepathy. Aquaman talks to fish. Whether they talk back is a different story.
Continue reading Aquaman is back!
The combination of increasing extreme weather and social media has created, if you’ll pardon the pun, a perfect storm for sharing photos that show post-hurricane devastation (both real and fake). Many of them take the form of of a shark swimming through flooded city streets. For better or for worse, I’m known as “the shark guy” among my friends and family, which means that every time one of these pictures pops up, I get it e-mailed to me on the order of 50-100 times.
With the hopes of lightening my inbox and edu-ma-cating our loyal readers, presented below is a simple guide to determine if any given “shark after the storm” photo is fake.
1) Use your vast knowledge of shark biology to determine if a shark that size of that species could possibly be in water that deep.
The image above was one of the first “shark after a storm” pictures to go viral. It claimed to show a great white shark swimming through the flooded streets of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irene in 2011. Take a look at how high the car’s side view mirror is above the water. That means the water level, while more than high enough to be destructive to cars and buildings, is not nearly high enough for a shark of that size to be comfortably swimming in. Also, great white sharks are not typically found in the Caribbean in August.
Continue reading How to tell if a “shark in flooded city streets after a storm” photo is a fake in 5 easy steps
There is no force more creative than the painstakingly slow process of evolution. Ever wanted to walk through walls? Naked mole rats can physically bore through concrete. How about fly? There are a couple dozen different ways to accomplish that goal, even if you’re a squid. Incredible power of regeneration? Flatworms, roundworms, and echinoderms have us beat. Among the vertebrates, species like the axolotl can regrow limbs, organs, and parts of their brain. For practically every super power we can imagine, something on the tree of life has come up with a real-world analog.
Some real super power are more super than others:
1. The immortal rotifer that absorbs the abilities of anything it touches.
Bdelloid Rotifers. photo by Diego Fontaneto
Around 80 million years ago, a small, unassuming group of metazoa decided that sex just wasn’t for them. Instead of going through the effort of recombining their genetic material with a mate every generation to produce a viable offspring with a roughly 50% contribution from each parent, Bdelloid Rotifers started reproducing asexually. Males completely disappeared from class bdelloidea, leaving females to generate genetic duplicates through parthenogenesis. This is not their super power.
Bdelloid rotifers are incredibly tough. When environmental conditions are less than favorable, they can enter a dormant state. In this dormant state,they can survive the worst unscathed. Dehydrated, they can endure extreme temperatures, drought, even ionizing radiation. A bdelloid rotifer in its dormant state can even survive in space. If that isn’t enough, while dormant, these rotifers continue to produce offspring, which also remain dormant. This is not their super power.
Bdelloid rotifers’ super power appears when they recover from their dormant state. As they rehydrate and repair whatever damage their cells incurred, they incorporate DNA fragments from their environment. This includes partially digested food and any DNA in close proximity to them, even bacterial and archael DNA. It is this ability that allows bdelloid rotifers to overcome the limitations of asexual reproduction and survive for 80 million years without mates. They can literally absorb the attributes of those around them.
Their incredible toughness, celibate lifestyle, and ability to absorb the powers of anything they touch, put Bdelloid Rotifers firmly on par with X-Men perennial favorite: Rogue.
Continue reading Five organisms with real super powers that rival their comic book counterparts
I adore Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. That’s right, I said it. There’s a soft spot in my brittle old heart for that whole family, Sugar Bear, Mamma June, and all. Especially Glitzy.
Glitzy the Pig. Image from The Learning Channel.
Glitzy, for those of you who don’t know, is a “Teacup” Pig (as you can tell from the video, pigs don’t like to be held). Pigs are cute. Piglets are super cute. Pigs are very intelligent, highly social, and make surprisingly good, house-trainable pets. Unfortunately, 800-lb hogs are not cute. Over the years, various breeders have tried to create pigs that retain all of the adorableness of a piglet without reaching the potential half ton plus mass of a full grown adult hog. Among the most popular “miniature” is the Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, a delightfully spry porcine that tops the scales at a manageable 300 pounds. When legitimate breeders talk about miniature pigs, they’re talking about these 300-lb cuties. Pot-bellied pigs are surprisingly diverse, and, although extremely rare, adults have been reported as small as 20 pounds (most breeders would regard an adult pig that size to be extremely malnourished). This huge size range prompted many breeders to attempt to create even smaller pig breeds, selecting from only the smallest stock. Enter the teacup pig.
A teacup pig (or a micro pig, nano pig, or any of a half dozen variations of “small”) is supposedly a tiny pig breed. Some breeders claim that their pigs only reach up to 30 pounds in weight. Combined with the intelligence and sociability that pigs possess, it would seem that teacup pigs should make a perfect pet. There is only one problem: there’s no such thing as a teacup pig.
Continue reading The Trouble with Teacup Pigs
In response to yesterday’s review of Aquaman Volume 1: The Trench, Al Dove made a simple request via twitter:
Your next post should be “What would aquaman look like at different depths?”
This question is more complex than it first appears, and needs a little unpacking. Water is denser than air. When light passes through, the water acts as a filter, absorbing visible light in a predictable pattern from longest wavelengths (infrareds and reds) to shortest wavelengths (purples and ultraviolets). As Aquaman dives deeper, the brilliant colors of his orange and green costume will begin to fade.
Continue reading Epilogue to the Return of the Science of Aquaman: Costume Palettes at Depth
Seriously, is no one else bothered by the fact that his trident has five points? Aquaman: The Trench. From DC Comics.
After reducing Aquaman to a hypothermic, hyposmotic, constantly famished, case study in psychological trauma, I figure that I owe the king of Atlantis a second chance. After all, Aquaman was and still remains the most interesting hero in the DC universe. A generous fan sent me a copy of Aquaman Volume 1: The Trench, arguing that the New 52 version of everybody’s favorite aquatic hero is even more compelling than previous incarnations, with a stronger backstory, powers that make sense, and plenty of humor.
Last time I paid the hapless mariner a visit, many readers interpreted my incisive criticism of the science behind Aquaman as evidence that I had it out for our scale-clad hero. Since you all know that I’m going to take the misguided marine science in this volume to task, let’s start with all of the good stuff in this reimagination of DC’s oft-mocked champion.
The central conceit of New 52 Aquaman is that the comic book world has the same perception of Arthur Curry that we do–a hero with oddly specific and mostly useless powers that talks to fish. In addition, the citizens of the DC Universe believe that Atlantis is a fairy tale, so Aquaman’s kingly status is meaningless to the surface dwellers. The hybrid of a human father and Atlantean mother, Aquaman feels out of place in Atlantis and chooses to return to the surface with his wife, Mera. Comparing himself to his lighthouse-keeper father, he explains that even though he loves the sea, someone must protect the shore.
Continue reading Return of the Science of Aquaman: Welcome to the Trench
Aquaman has an unpleasant lunch. From New 52 Aquaman #1 DC Comics.
Two weeks ago, I challenged the world to consider how the greatest hero in the DC Universe would fair if forced to survive in the real world. The result was a hypothermic, brain-dead lump of jerky with brittle bones forced to suffer through constant screams of agony even as he consumes sea life at a rate that would impress Galactus. In short, the ocean is a rough place, even for Aquaman.
Since that post made its way across the internet, several people have asked me to discuss what adaptations Aquaman would need to survive in this, science-based, ocean. So I went back to my comic books and my textbooks to assemble an Aquaman with a suite of evolutionary adaptations that would allow a largely humanoid organism to rule the waves, trident triumphantly raised.
Continue reading The importance of being Aquaman, or how to save the Atlantean from his briny fate