Nature is a brutal place where savage predators sift through infinitesimal strands of stimulus you cannot begin to imagine ... and you routinely fall on your face because you thought there was "one more stair." Obviously, you don't stand a chance in the wild -- not when animals like these are out there murdering each other with what might as well be magic powers.
The five senses are pretty standard among living creatures. Some animals will have an extra sense thrown into the mix -- directional, barometric, fashion -- but five or six is generally the limit of mortal perceptions. Unless you're a snake. They can have up to nine senses that we know about. No, they can't see dead people or anything -- it's just that they double up on all of the basic ones. Snakes have two types of hearing, two types of smell, and two types of sight.
"And 12 types of kickass."
A snake's jaw is linked directly to its inner ear, allowing it to literally hear surface vibrations. Snake jawbones are so sensitive that a horned desert viper can accurately strike at a small, quiet mouse coming up behind him ... in the middle of a pitch-black night. Further, their lower jawbones are separated into two halves, and the difference in timing between the vibrations received by the two sides informs the snake of the direction of its scampering prey. Snakes have high-fidelity directional hearing in their mouths.
Better yet, because snakes "smell" by "tasting" the air with their tongues, and because those tongues are typically forked, they also have incredible directional smelling. Snakes effectively smell in stereo. Finally, many varieties of snake have heat-sensing pit organs that can detect infrared light. For their relatively tiny size, these sensors are up to 10 times more sensitive than anything our technology has managed to create, and they come in several different types that all focus on different wavelengths.
Sichert, Andreas, et al.
"Suck it, Predator."
But pit vipers take it a step further; they not only possess this crazy Predator-vision, but actually use the heat map to direct multiple attacks on a single target. They'll strike their prey once, wait for the adrenaline to kick in, watch for heat spikes that show where their prey is most vulnerable, and then direct their next strikes to the weak spots. You might recognize that as the exact same tactic you use to beat video game bosses. That's right: Pit vipers' whole lives are basically one big round of Metal Gear Solid.
Spiders have an astounding and frightening array of abilities, like web spinning, jumping, and just ... generally existing at all. And now science is throwing another handful of meat into the Terror Jambalaya: Studies done on the hunting spider, Cupiennius salei, reveal that they can leap up and catch a bug flying past them ... while blindfolded. (Side note: We call "dibs" on not being the guy who has to tie the tiny spider blindfolds.)
"Take it off, motherfucker. I could use a finger steak."
C. salei accomplishes this feat by "feeling" the air around it with the sensitive hairs covering its body. They're so finely tuned that each hair can detect the direction and pressure of the airflow to accurately time and orient the spider's attack without the benefit of vision. It's not necessarily a new trick: Most mammals (including us) have hairs in their inner ear that detect sound vibrations, and spider hairs work on a similar principle, making their entire body a giant super-ear that can hear vibrations down to one ten-billionth of a meter ("roughly the width of an atom"). That's how sensitive their body beard is ... aaaaand of course they use it for murder.
But that's not the only molecular power arachnids possess. Most spiders use their hairy front legs for grasping prey, but some, like Palpimanus gibbulus, have incredible adhesive properties that make escaping intact literally impossible once they lay legs on something. But there's no webbing or glue involved: The microscopic hairs on P. gibbulus' legs are so small that molecular forces give them insane grip. Once seized, its prey, usually other spiders, can only escape by ripping off their own limbs. See? That's how terrifying spiders are: Even spiders are scared of them.
"Get back here! I want to try a double high-five."
Foxes have been romanticized throughout history as sly creatures. They've been called cunning, quick, sneaky, and deceitful, but two adjectives have been curiously absent when describing foxes up until now: "mutant" and "sniper." And we should probably fix that, because it's absolutely true: Foxes use the Earth's magnetic field to aim their strikes.
Researchers noticed that, when not appearing in charming anthropomorphic fables, foxes in the Northern Hemisphere preferred to pounce on hidden animals while facing exactly 20 degrees off from magnetic north. We know that lots of animals, from cows to bees, can sort of navigate using the Earth's invisible fields of energy, but no other animal, to our knowledge, uses it to hunt. After observing over 600 fox strikes, the evidence clearly shows that they prefer a northeasterly attack vector. When launching an attack against hidden prey from this direction, a fox's kill rate was a whopping 73 percent. From the exact opposite direction, it was 60 percent. Attacks not issued on this invisible axis at all fell to a pitiful 18 percent success rate. How, exactly, the fox manages this feat is still up for debate, but the leading theory is that they use the Earth's magnetic field in conjunction with their hearing to line up the target in a sort of biological crosshair.
Biology Letters, doi:10.1098/rsbl.2010.1145
You should see this guy sneak up on a Milk-Bone.
Here's how it might work: In the Northern Hemisphere, magnetic forces angle down at around 60 to 70 degrees. As the fox nears its prey, it listens for movement: The "sweet spot" is where the sound from the prey also matches the angle of the Earth's magnetic field. Another possibility is that this magnetic angle is actually built right into the fox's eyeballs, giving it a literal heads-up display.
Which might explain why Star Fox was the only competent pilot in his squadron.
Let's just hope there's never a fable about the time the fox met the pit viper, or we're all going to need Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Glover on speed dial.
Most people consider dragonflies to be nothing more than happy indicators of summer. A dragonfly flitting by is visual shorthand for "beautiful summer day," but perhaps it should be shorthand for "Watch out: xenomorphic monsters crossing."
Adult dragonflies are the Harrier jets of the insect world -- they can fly at speeds of over 30 mph, hover, and even fly backward. Those massive eyes allow them to spot prey from over 100 yards away, and they're voracious eaters. But that's nothing compared to the dragonfly larva, which feeds by firing out its lower jaw like the monster from Aliens. Covered with spikes and spines too freaky to call "teeth," a dragonfly larva can extend its labium so quickly that it acts like a projectile weapon, stunning if not outright killing prospective prey.
It's such an effective hunting technique that dragonfly larvae can even catch minnows, some as large as themselves. But this is definitely a case of words and even still images utterly failing at their given task. You truly have to see that weird little insect fire its bladed chin gun at a passing fish in real time to understand that, if there's a God watching over this world, he's a huge horror nerd.
"Y'know what the world could use? More nightmares."
A few of the many fanged nightmares that lurk in the briny deep use bioluminescence to lure prey close, like that creepy fang-fish from Finding Nemo. Others use bioluminescence to signal mates, or even to ward off rivals. But nothing uses it like the Dana octopus squid: It's a predatory flasher.
"Call it what you want. I know I look good."
No, these squids have not evolved to run up to bus stops with their balls hanging out of their chinos -- Japanese researchers filmed these gigantic invertebrates using their bioluminescence like a flashbang grenade. The man-sized squids will dash up to prey, splay their tentacles, and then set off a dizzying disco strobe light routine.
Royal Society via National Geographic
If you're looking to have some fun in the ocean, this is the guy to ask.
This sudden photonic onslaught, unleashed in the perpetual gloom and shadows of the tenebrous sea, stuns fish long enough for the tentacles to close, and boom: You've got yourself a squid effectively using urban warfare tactics. Sleep tight!
Humpbacks are a favorite of ocean lovers everywhere. Compared to the vicious-looking sperm whales (is it just us, or was someone a confusing kind of horny on "Whale-Naming Day"?), big ol' clumsy humpbacks are like your jolly, dumb cousin, all dancing stupidly for your amusement at family barbecues. But much like that time you caught Cousin Jethro hacking into the Pentagon, you are seriously underestimating these blubbery beasts. See, humpback whales have been known to use one of the most convoluted and ingenious hunting methods on the planet: the bubble net.
Otherwise known as the ringworm of the sea.
While they're largely solitary, humpback whales do hunt in groups. When they find a school of tasty fish, the group breaks formation and encircles the prey in a deadly ring of humps. As one, the whales suddenly breathe out, and the ensuing bubbles are so thick and numerous that they form a net of force that the fish cannot swim through. Thus trapped in the bubble ring, the fish are then driven to the surface by a group of "shepherd" whales that swim up from below. Still other whales will scream at the scrambling fish. Yeah, all that beautiful, mournful singing? Turns out it's not all about communication or mating. Some of that caterwauling is straight up banshee-style sonic warfare: The noise disorients and even stuns fish, driving them further into the trap. Finally, when all the fish have been corralled, herded, and shrieked into a stupor, the entire group of humpbacks will bull rush the school from below, swallowing thousands of fish in a single gulp.
Brill, via Science Daily
Leave some for the rest of us, mooches.
Researchers don't think this is recently learned behavior either, which means that humpback whales were probably fishing with nets long before human beings ever thought of it.
So yeah, maybe it's time to rethink that whole "whaling" thing. Not for any ethical reason -- it just might not be a great idea to piss off the 40-ton, sonic-warfare-wielding master tacticians of the ocean, y'know?
"We can body-check tanks. Something to keep in mind."
Monte Richard writes all kinds of stuffs for all kinds of people, but mostly he rambles aimlessly here.
For more reasons why none of us stand a chance, check out The 6 Deadliest Creatures (That Can Fit In Your Shoe) and 5 Lovable Animals You Didn't Know Are Secretly Terrifying.