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You're probably already familiar with some of the more common examples of super strong animals, like the crocodile with its powerful bite or the leafcutter ant's impressive overhead carry. However, there are lots of lesser-known animals capable of amazing acts of strength.

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Hero shrews:


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In the strongman competition of the animal kingdom, you might know some of the usual contenders. Like the crocodile with its brutal bite force, and the leafcutter ant with its overhead carry, or the ox with its pulling power.

But when it comes to strength, it’s not all about big muscles. So here are 7 animals who have surprisingly powerful abilities and use them in surprising ways. In the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there’s a small creature that can bear enormous weights: the hero shrew.

The local Mangbetu people showed off its strength to visiting naturalists in 1910 by having a grown man stand on its back for several minutes. When he stepped off, the shrew scurried away unharmed. What makes the hero shrew so strong is its unique spinal column — especially its lumbar, or lower back, vertebrae.

Most shrews have 5 round lumbar vertebrae with 2 spinal processes each, the bony projections on the back of each vertebrae. But the hero shrew has 10 to 12 thicker vertebrae with up to 20 processes each, letting the bones tightly lock together, which makes the spine more rigid. That means it doesn’t twist as easily or creep, which is engineering speak for deform under pressure.

In fact, scientists have estimated that the hero shrew’s spine is 4 times stronger than any other vertebrate. Plus, the group of muscles that connect the spine to the hips and thigh bone, the iliopsoas, are larger than in other shrews or rats. Scientists think the hero shrew’s spine might act like a crowbar to pry away tough outer palm tree leaves, so it can reach juicy beetle larvae that no other predator can.

But it’s still a bit of an evolutionary mystery. In 2013, scientists uncovered a new species called the Thor hero shrew. It also has a tightly interlocking spine, but only 8 lumbar vertebrae and fewer, but bigger, spinal processes.

They think it could be a transitional form, or a species that lies between ancient and modern forms. But still, no one has done tests on the Thor Hero Shrew to figure out just how strong it is. And researchers still aren’t sure what selective pressures drove the evolution of such a ridiculously strong spine.

The Northern Clingfish is found in the salty waters of the Pacific Northwest in the United States. And it does what its name suggests — it clings onto stuff using a single suction cup on the underside of its body. It especially hangs onto rocks in the inter tidal zone, the area that’s above water at low tide and underwater at high tide.

This zone has its perks: waves supply new nutrients and oxygen and there’s quite a bit of algae to go around as food for animals living there. But it can be pretty rough, too. The currents coming in and out mean animals might get battered around if they don’t have a good way to stay stuck.

The Northern Clingfish only weighs between 1.5 and 15 grams, so you might not think it’s that impressive that it can hold onto a rock. But, in experiments, this little fish could cling onto and lift rocks 200 times its body weight. The secret to this passive strength is that Clingfish suction cups are covered in microscopic little bumps or papillae, which are covered in even tinier little hairs or micro villi.

Unlike the smooth edges of a, say, plastic suction cups, the rough edges of the Clingfish’s cup produce friction or can squeeze into little cracks. That way, it can hold on to all kinds of surfaces, whether they’re dry, slippery, or rough. They can even use their suction cups to pry aquatic snails called limpets off rocks as a snack!

The saying “pick on someone your own size” isn’t really true in the animal kingdom. Most predators hunt prey that’s around 20 to 50 percent of their body mass. But the five species of kingsnakes eat prey the same size or larger than them, all thanks to their strong constriction powers.

In fact, kingsnakes are the strongest constrictors of all snakes by body weight. They can squeeze at 180 millimeters of mercury. For comparison, your blood pressure might be around 120 millimeters of mercury.

So if a kingsnake squeezed you hard enough, your heart couldn’t pump blood. What’s strange is that kingsnake muscles aren’t shockingly thicker or anything so their strength might have to do with how they coil. Unlike other snakes which are messy coilers, kingsnakes wrap their bodies around their prey in a neat spiral shape.

That maximizes force and reduces the need to wriggle around and readjust its grip, leading to more consistent pressure. And even though their muscles aren’t huge, they can stay contracted for hours at a time somehow. But it’s not like kingsnakes bite off more than they can chew.

They have a way to squeeze big prey inside a smaller digestive tract. Kingsnakes do what’s called a pterygoid walk, where they bite down with one side of their mouth at a time to maneuver the prey in. That forces the prey’s spinal column to bend and compress like a paper fan to fit.

If only I could do that with a whole pizza. Copepods are a group of small crustaceans that range in size from 0.2 to 20 millimeters in length. Some are plank tonic and drift around in the ocean, feeding on other tiny things.

So you might not expect that copepods have one of the most powerful jumps on the planet at least 10 times more powerful than the average land vertebrate. When they’re threatened by fish or when they want to ambush their prey, they’ll launch forward at speeds of up to 500 body lengths per second. For comparison, the cheetah runs at speeds of around 16 body lengths per second.

But its speed isn’t nearly as impressive as the strength of its jump. It come in between 500 and 1500 Newtons per kilogram of muscle, depending on the species. For an estimated comparison, NBA player Dwight Howard generates around 112 Newtons for every kilogram of muscle when he jumps.

And copepods actually jump kind of like we do. They strike backwards rapidly with their four or five pairs of pereiopods, or swimming legs, and push off the water. Scientists think that copepods’ muscle-limb lever system is arranged differently to land vertebrates.

And it’s helped by an exoskeleton that muscles can attach themselves to. Exactly what that lever system looks like is still a bit of a mystery, because no one has really dissected the teeny tiny legs of a copepod. The secretary bird is up there on the list of birds that are more intense than they look.

It uses its long legs to knock out or kill snakes that are trying to attack it, or lizards that it will later gobble up. And a study published in the journal Current Biology in 2016 revealed just how powerful this bird’s legs are. Researchers tested Madeline, a secretary bird at the Hawk Conservancy Trust in the UK, who’s been trained to kick rubber snakes for shows.

A force plate lying under the rubber snake measured Madeline’s kicks at 195 Newtons, equivalent to 5 times the bird’s own body weight. Unlike copepods pushing off of water, secretary birds don’t have anything to push against to generate their powerful kicks — they do it from standing. And these kicks are also fast.

Madeline’s foot only touched the ground for 15 milliseconds. Because the strike time is so short, scientists think secretary birds rely on a feed-forward motor control system. It’s kind of like when you go to reach for something on a shelf.

You see the object, your brain sets the target, and then it coordinates your shoulder, elbow, and wrist to make it happen. The birds’ brains can predict where the snake is going to be before striking, and coordinate the movement of their long legs. And their visual system is similar to birds of prey, giving them a sharp view of their target.

The loggerhead shrike might look like an adorable little sparrow. But once you know its eating habits, you might think twice about calling it cute. It has a falcon-like bill with a sharp tip, and pierces the neck of its prey to paralyze it — from insects and lizards to small mammals and even other birds.

Then, the shrike will impale its prey on a sharp object like a bit of fence or tree branch. That makes it easier to eat — like a corndog at the fair. It’s gruesome meal-prep tactics earned it the nickname “butcherbird.” Sometimes though, for larger prey, the loggerhead shrike really needs to use its strength.

It bites down on its prey’s neck and shakes its head violently from side to side at a speed of 11 times per second. That generates an acceleration force of 6g, which is about what someone in a low speed car crash might feel. And scientists think it has the power to snap the necks or spines of its prey.

Biologists took a closer look at this shaking behavior earlier in 2018. And they think that little ridges on the bird’s beak, called tomial teeth, could help it hold onto its meal. But the next step is to research the loggerhead shrike’s neck and head muscles to learn how it can generate so much force so quickly.

And how they don’t snap their own neck in the process. Now, 6g is pretty impressive. But it pales in comparison to trap jaw ants, which have mandibles that can snap shut at speeds up to 64 meters per second — around 100,000g of acceleration.

That snap generates a force around 500 times their body weight, which is both faster and stronger than the strike of the mantis shrimp. Their jaw basically works like a catapult. Attached to each half is one large, slow muscle that can hold the jaw open 180 degrees — ready to snap.

When something touches tiny sensory hairs on the ant’s jaw, a smaller, faster muscle is activated. This unlocks the jaws and releases the stored energy so they snap shut. Trap-jaw ants pull out this powerful party trick for a whole range of tasks, from injuring prey to flinging intruding ants away from their nest.

And in 2015, scientists discovered that these ants also used their jaws to escape danger, especially the traps of the pit-building Antlion. This predatory insect digs quicksand-like holes in the sand then lurks at the bottom waiting for a meal to stumble down. As soon as a trap-jaw ant realizes it’s tumbling down a trap, it snaps its jaws shut on the sand to push off and out of the hole.

They can also do this on normal ground to escape the speedy tongues of lizards who might want them as a snack. In an experiment, ants that had their jaws glued shut were less likely to survive an encounter with an Antlion than those that could use their jumping powers. The researchers think this is evidence that their jaws evolved for escape.

So next time you’re at the gym, remember, big muscles and brute force aren’t the only forms of strength. Animals can be capable of some amazing feats of strength that give them an edge in their own unique worlds. Now, As an additional way of keeping SciShow strong, and helping us continue doing what we do, we’ve recently enabled channel memberships on this channel.

For roughly $5 a month, you can become a member and get access to some sweet badges and emojis and our members-only posts in the community tab. Our videos, of course, will continue to be available for everyone, but if you want to become a supporting member and get those extra goodies, you can just click on that little Join button below the video. ♩.