13 Amazing Things Animals Can Do With Their Bodies

A ruby throated hummingbird flying in the air

Jeffrey W. / Flickr

In the air, ruby-throated hummingbirds have the fastest wingbeats of any bird, flapping their wings 55 times in one split second. In the water, sailfish are the fastest fish, swimming as fast as 68 miles per hour. And on the ground, the tiny flea takes home the award for the highest jumper, leaping 220 times its body length and 150 times its height. That would be like a human jumping over an eight-story building!

While these are incredible abilities, they don't come close to matching some of the most mind-blowing manipulations other animals, insects, and marine life can do with their bodies: think regrowing lost limbs, changing gender, producing their own sunscreen or even being immortal.

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Wood Frogs Can Freeze and Thaw

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The forest-dwelling wood frog can be found as far south as Georgia and as far north as Alaska, and the ones living in those colder climates have a really cool trick for surviving winter's harsh temperatures. Their blood contains an antifreeze of sorts that allows their body (the skin, blood and muscles) to freeze and thaw safely when the temperatures rise.

Unlike bears, this is not a winter-long hibernation. The freeze-and-thaw process may occur several times throughout the year, during which the frog burrows into cover leaves on the forest floor, National Geographic reports.

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Reindeer eyes turn blue

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Their noses don't actually glow red, but reindeer do have a different colorful facial feature. Their eyeballs turn blue in the winter to capture more light during the dark Arctic winter months. In the spring, the eyes are golden in color.

Reindeer eyes have a reflective layer behind the retina, which is on the back of the eyeball and contains light-sensitive cells. As Live Science reports: "The color of the light reflected by reindeer eyes is related to the spacing of collagen fibers in the reflective layer, technically known as the tapetum lucidum. Reindeer apparently increase pressure inside the eyeball during the winter to compress these fibers together, and reducing the spacing between these fibers makes the eyes reflect bluer light."

"No one has ever seen anything like this in a mammal before, let alone such a large shift," neuroscientist Glen Jeffery, who investigates vision at University College London, told Live Science.

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Gecko sheds scales

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Geckolepis megalepis, a type of lizard known as the fish-scale gecko and native to Madagascar and the Comoro Islands, gets its name from its exceptionally large scales. When the gecko senses danger, it sheds those scales, and even a slight touch can trigger such a reaction.

"What's really remarkable though is that these scales — which are really dense and may even be bony, and must be quite energetically costly to produce — and the skin beneath them tear away with such ease, and can be regenerated quickly and without a scar," Mark Scherz, lead author of a recent study and Ph.D. student at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and Zoologische Staatssammlung München, said in a statement.

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Humpback whales bubble-net feed

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Like all baleen whales, humpback whales feed by engulfing a large volume of water containing prey and separating food and water using sieve-like baleen plates, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

However, humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) engage in a complex method of herding and eating prey, such as krill or Pacific herring, called bubble net feeding that distinguishes them from other whales. This dinner dance involves a pod of whales diving down below a school of fish and swimming in a circle around the prey, sending columns of air bubbles upward from their blowholes as they swim. (You can see the bubbles rising to the surface in a circular pattern.) This momentum forces the prey into the center of the circle and upward toward the surface. Then suddenly, the whales burst out of the water with their mouths wide open to gulp down their meal.

This behavior occurs in the summer months, as they normally do not eat when migrating or breeding.

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Starfish expel their stomachs to eat

Photo: Molly Timmers/NOAA

A starfish eats its food outside of its body and then brings it inside. These sea stars feed by extending their stomach out of their mouths and over the prey. The prey tissue is partially digested externally before the soup-like "chowder" produced is drawn in, according to a study published in The Journal of Experimental Biology.

Researchers found that the starfish can do this because of a molecule which carries signals between neurons, which in turn cause the stomach to expand and retract.

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Some jellyfish are immortal

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A Mediterranean Sea-dwelling tiny species of jellyfish known as Turritopsis nutricula has a reset button of sorts. When the creature is harmed, threatened or starving, it reverts its cells back to their earliest form, basically turning itself back into a baby (or in this case, a polyp). It then grows anew, leading scientists to call the jellyfish "immortal."

The jellyfish can die, however. This super skill develops only after the creature has reached sexual maturation. So they can (and do) die from disease prior to that, or they may be eaten by a predator.

The American Museum of Natural History explains the scientific process: "The cellular mechanism behind it — a rare process known as transdifferentiation — is [when] an adult cell, one that is specialized for a particular tissue, can become an entirely different type of specialized cell."

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Opossums are immune to venom

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Opossums have a serum protein in their blood that neutralizes snake venom, meaning that bites from poisonous snakes have no effect on the marsupials. Other mammals, including squirrels and honey badgers, also are immune to venom.

Scientists are studying the protein to see if it could help human snakebite victims in the future. (The World Health Organization estimates that at least 94,000 people worldwide die each year from venomous snakes.)

"The mice that were given the venom incubated with the peptide never showed any signs [of being sick]," Claire Komives, a professor of chemical engineering at San Jose State University in California, told National Geographic. However, snake venom contains hundreds of different toxins, and the opossum protein may not deactivate all of them, so more research is needed.

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Hippos make their own sunscreen

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The red beads of fluid in this close-up photo of a hippo's skin may be red, but they're not blood — they're more like beads of sweat. Hippos produce a natural sunscreen and coolant, and the reddish pigment is what gives hippos that rosy color you sometimes see.

A 2004 study showed that the "sweat" is made up of a red pigment and an orange pigment; the red contains an antibiotic, while the orange absorbs the sun's rays. The fluid comes out clear but turns color within a few minutes. It's a critical defense against the strong sun and searing heat in their native central Africa.

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Sea cucumbers can turn liquid

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These slithery, slimy ocean-floor dwelling creatures have two cool, though somewhat gross, super abilities. First, when some species of sea cucumbers are threatened, they quite literally spill their guts. They defend themselves by expelling their internal organs out one end of their body. Their insides are sticky and are meant to trap the attacker, and the sea cucumber can regenerate the organs quickly.

Second, as the Japan Times explains, sea cucumbers "have a compound in their tissue called collagen, which can change, under neurological control, from 'liquid' form to 'solid' form and back again. This ability allows sea cucumbers to in effect liquefy their bodies and pour themselves into a crack in a rock, then wedge themselves in by solidifying their tissue, to prevent a predator from pulling them out."

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Dung beetle can lift 1,000 times its body weight

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The strongest animal in the world is not a bear, gorilla or even an ox. That honor goes to the beetle, particularly the dung beetle, which can pull more than 1,140 times its own body weight, according to a 2010 study. That would be the equivalent of an average adult lifting roughly 200,000 pounds!

Their incredible feats of strength are directly connected to their sex lives. "Female beetles of this species dig tunnels under a dung pat, where males mate with them. If a male enters a tunnel that is already occupied by a rival, they fight by locking horns and try to push each other out," study author Robert Knell, of the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary University of London, told Scientific American.

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Salamanders regrow lost limbs

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When some species of salamander, like the axolotl (pictured), lose a limb to a hungry predator, they can regrow all of it — bone, blood vessels and muscles. They're not the only creature who can do this: two types of fish, zebrafish and bichir, can as well. And a 2016 study on all three creatures found clues as to how this happens.

Scientists found 10 tiny pieces of RNA that were the same in all three species. As Science Magazine explains, this "supports an existing idea that the three master limb-replacers last shared a common ancestor about 420 million years ago, and it suggests that the evolutionary process of growing limbs is saved over time, not developed independently in separate species."

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Cockroaches can survive decapitation

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In case cockroaches weren't creepy enough, with their predicted ability to survive an apocalypse and reputation for being unwelcome house guests, there's this: Cockroaches that are decapitated can survive for weeks without their heads.

These pests don't breathe through their nose and mouth like humans; they breathe through spiracles, or little holes all over their body. So they can breathe without a head. They don't have blood vessels or bleed like humans either, so blood loss wouldn't kill them Scientific American reports. But without their heads, they couldn't drink water, so dehydration would finish them off would finish them off before hunger, as they can go for weeks without eating after just one meal.

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Clownfish change gender

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You've probably heard of hermaphrodites: an organism that has both male and female reproductive organs. In some hermaphrodites, the animal starts out as one sex and switches to the other later in its life. Clownfish (yes, like Nemo from "Finding Nemo") may be born male but switch to female later in life.

As the University of California Museum of Paleontology explains: "This species lives within sea anemones in groups of two large fish and many small fish. The two large fish are the only sexually mature fish and are a male and female breeding pair. All of the smaller fish are male. If the large breeding female is removed, her male mate changes sex to female and the next largest fish in the group rapidly increases in size and takes over the role as the sexually mature male."