6 Superpowers That Really Exist


I’m confused by this:[quote=“boingboing, post:1, topic:29890”]
And if we get away from noses entirely, the antennae of some male luna moths can detect a single molecule of a female’s sex pheromone at a distance of more than six miles.

Doesn’t smell require the physical interaction between the molecule and the olfactory organ? This seems to suggest otherwise, but maybe what the author means is that the male luna moths can detect a single molecule of a female’s sex pheromone, which is the usual concentration at six miles?


+1 to the confusion.

I think the meaning is that the femal moth can be 6 miles away. And that at that distance a single molecule is all the male could encounter (diffusion). So it can detect a single molecule, which is a damn impressive signal to noise ratio.


There have been at least two documented cases of a mutation in humans that triggers accelerated muscle growth and extraordinary strength right from birth; it happens when both copies of a myostatin-producing gene are defective, is extremely rare, and no one knows what the long term health consequences are.

Whatever happened to that kid? I feel like I read about that almost a decade ago. Child of a pair of bodybuilders, I believe, so presumably there’s partial benefit from that gene.

Huh, I was right, exactly a decade ago.

I do know what excessive premature muscular development does to normal children, though. The bones of of the people who lived in Skara Brae were deformed from relatively early childhood because of the rigors of their lifestyle and the fact that children were put to work as early as 9 years of age.

screw all that, just give me the powers of a Mantis Shrimp.


[quote]Consider the mantis shrimp, which has trinocular vision (we’re
binocular), at least twelve photoreceptors (we have three), and the
ability to perceive polarised light.[/quote]

I understand the advantage of twelve photoreceptors over our own three and of the ability to perceive polarised light, but I can’t fathom (if I may be forgiven the pun) the advantage of trinocular vision over binocular.

Humans can detect polarized light. Once you’re aware of the phenomenon, you’ll notice it all the time.

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Obligatory link for articles that mention the mantis shrimp:


that’s because it’s not trinocular vision. Trinocular vision is in insects with a rudimentary gem eye, which means that they have two regular eyes and a third simple eye that helps them focus.

A mantis shrimp has eyes that are divided in to three parts, meaning that it’s got two eyes, each with three focal points. This gives the shrimp an ability to focus with pinpoint accuracy for it’s sonic-boom punches.

Also, they most likely can’t see in IR.

No animal can see in complete darkness...
But some things make their own light to find food, and in particular I think malacosteid fish deserve some special credit. Nearly all the light in the deep sea is blue-green and most vision is limited accordingly, but some malacosteids hunt using red lights – so they light up their prey in a way visible to them but not other fish. It impressed me, anyway.

For biosonar, I have heard that the Bedouin monks of the Al Maghreb mountains developed a system of sonic chanting. The sound of their chanting would bounce back off any obstacles, and using their highly tuned ears they could paint a mental picture of the path ahead. However, you must always sing in E-flat.


I think you meant: “signal to nose”.


This is possibly a nice bit of humor that I’m simply not getting. Or possibly a delicious little bit of absurdity appended to a nice post, and I missed the transition.

But finally, it set off my duck-quacks-don’t-echo-BS-alarm.

Please elaborate about the necessity of singing in E-flat, and forgive my obtuseness if it was humor that I didn’t get.

Ahem… You had me going there. I don’t know if there are any Bedouin monks, but there are indeed monks who live among the Bedouin.


Actually, 500v at 1 amp is plenty enough to kill a human being. The risk here is somewhat similar to that of standing in a puddle and then getting into the house current at 110/120v, as they say. The big risk here is not that a person would be sizzled; more that their heart might go into fibrillation, and unless someone is standing around with the paddles (or the electric catfish is willing to oblige and shock you back to life), then you’re…well, toast. But not toasted.

I don’t want to be human.
I want to see gamma rays.
I want to hear x-rays, and I… I want to… I want to smell dark matter.
I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws, and feel the solar wind of a supernova flowing over me.
I’m a machine, and I could know much more.

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You probably think I’m going to talk about dogs again, and it’s true that their olfactory sense is several hundred thousand times greater than ours.

Cats and dogs have a vomeronasal organ as well as the sort of olfactory senses we do – essentially, an ultra-high-resolution close-range scent detector, which they use when reading the scent markings of other animals, examining food, etc. The organ is normally closed off and it takes muscle movement to expose it to air – and cats have to open their mouths to do that.

Or, maybe, moths are homeopathic.


Human vision is astonishing – few other animals can see as many colours as we can…

As long as we’re nitpicking, tens of thousands of other animal species see more colors than we can. Most of us have only three types of photoreceptors (trichromacy), while most birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and shallow-water fish, plus rare females of our own species, have four (tetrachromacy), and some birds and invertebrates have five or more. Birds in particular have a variety of visual enhancements that we lack: higher densities of photoreceptors and retinal ganglia, filtering oil droplets, two foveae, extra muscles controlling the shape of the cornea, etc.

We do have unusually good color vision among mammals, though, so perhaps the author was making the common mistake of using “animal” when she meant “mammal.”

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Even cooler than bioelectrogenesis and electroreception individually is that some fish combine them. The Black ghost knifefish creates electromagnetic pulses and then, by sensing the response, locates buried prey. Active sensors ftw!