15 Animals With Amazing Abilities

A large salamander that looks like its smiling swimming underwater

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The animal kingdom is overflowing with species that boast unique and incredible abilities. Creatures with highly specialized adaptations can be found across the globe and in every environment. Some of these adaptations allow animals to escape from predators. Other abilities protect animals from the harsh conditions where they live. And some ensure the survival of the species by boosting the odds of reproduction. 

From sex changes to regenerating limbs, here are 15 amazing abilities found in animals. 

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Wood Frog

A brown frog blends in with pine needles on the forest floor

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The wood frog has developed a bizarre way to hibernate during winter—by freezing to death and returning to life in the spring. It can be found as far north as Alaska, where it survives winters by freezing for up to seven months straight. The frog's heart stops beating and its respiration ceases. Biologically speaking, the frog is dead.

Frozen frogs have been found to have blood glucose levels up to 10 times higher than normal, which helps cells retain water despite the freezing temperatures. When warm weather returns, the wood frog begins to thaw out. Within 14 to 24 hours it is fully functional again.

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A close-up shot of a white reindeer with a blue-brown eye

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Reindeer have eyes that change from brown to blue to promote better vision during dark, arctic winters. Also known as caribou, reindeer are found in boreal forests across North America and Europe, where daylight hours can vary widely according to the season. In summer, their eyes are brown, and adjusted to the long hours of sunlight. But in winter, reindeer live in near-constant darkness. In response, pressure in their eyes increases, which dilates the pupils, offers better night vision, and compresses the collagen in the lens of the eye. This decreases how much light is reflected, and changes the appearance of the eye from brown to blue. 

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Fish-Scale Gecko

A gecko with large scales on its skin

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The backs of fish-scale geckos are covered in large scales they can easily shed, likely to escape predators. Just a slight touch can cause the scales to dislodge, and scientists report that even attempts to capture geckos by gentle means can cause scale loss. Once shed, new scales grow to take their place in a matter of weeks.

There are five species of fish-scale geckos, and all are endemic to Madagascar and the Comoro Islands. They are nocturnal forest-dwellers that feed on insects. 

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Humpback Whale

Two humpback whales breach the surface of the water with open mouths

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Pods of humpback whales can corral fish using cooperative feeding patterns and columns of air bubbles called "bubble nets." To trap schools of krill or salmon, one whale will swim in a wide circle while expelling air bubbles from its blowhole. Other whales below the surface guide the fish into the "net" using vocalizations and swimming patterns. Finally, the entire pod will swim to the surface with their mouths open to feed on the trapped fish. Some research suggests that the bubble net creates a quiet zone that mutes the loud whale calls and lulls the fish into a false sense of security. 

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Sea Star

The underside of a sea star lying on rocks

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Sea stars have bizarre stomachs that can extend out of their mouths. This adaptation allows them to prey on large mussels and clams that they would not be able to consume using their mouths alone. The extended stomach envelops prey and partially digests the meal on the outside of the sea star's body. Then, the resulting soupy mix can be drawn in through the mouth as the stomach retracts. Researchers have identified the specific molecule that controls the stomach's contractions, and finding a way to disable it could prove instrumental in reducing the impact of some invasive sea stars on native species

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Immortal Jellyfish

Three jellyfish with long, stringlike tentacles in dark water

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The immortal jellyfish is a species of jellyfish that is biologically immortal. A mature jellyfish can revert to its immature form—called a polyp—through a process called transdifferentiation. It's a rare process in which the mature, specialized cells that make up the jellyfish can revert to an entirely different structure. Aging, physical damage from predators, and adverse environmental conditions can all serve as catalysts to start the process. In the wild, though, this tiny jellyfish (mature individuals are about the size of a human fingernail) still usually succumbs to predators or disease. 

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An opossum faces the camera while standing on a thick tree branch

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Opossums have a serum protein in their blood that neutralizes some forms of snake venom. Studies suggest that this adaptation developed as opossums preyed on venomous snakes, creating an arms race of sorts between snakes developing more complex toxins and opossums evolving greater resistance to the toxins

Researchers have synthesized the protein chain that creates the immunity, and initial studies show that it provided immunity to mice injected with rattlesnake venom as well. Scientists hope that this research could lead to an inexpensive, effective antivenom for human snakebite victims.

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A hippo with red liquid on its skin faces the camera

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The hippopotamus can produce a secretion on its skin that acts as a natural sunscreen and antibiotic. Though the red-tinted liquid is often referred to as "blood sweat," it has nothing to do with blood. Rather, the secretion is a combination of two pigments, called hipposudoric acid and nonhipposudoric acid. These chemicals emerge from hippopotamus skin in colorless sweat, but react with the air to form a viscous, crimson goo that blocks ultraviolet light

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Sea Cucumbers

A spiny, red sea cucumber on the ocean floor

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Sea cucumbers can hide from predators by liquefying and solidifying their bodies at will. With this bizarre adaptation, they can pour themselves into cracks and crevices, then secure themselves in their hiding places by regaining their solid form. 

Sea cucumber skin is made of a unique type of collagen called mutable collagenous tissue that can stretch, slide, and reorient without being damaged. When sea cucumbers enter their rigid form, the tissue orients itself into a lattice structure.

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Dung Beetle

A black dung beetle walks across a branch

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Relative to its size, the dung beetle is the strongest animal in the world, capable of pulling 1,141 times its own body weight. Their incredible feats of strength are directly connected to their sex lives. Female dung beetles dig tunnels that males will explore in hopes of finding a mating opportunity. When two males find themselves in the same tunnel, they lock horns and attempt to push their rival away. 

Curiously, not all males develop horns and superior strength. Some "sneaker males" employ increased agility and sperm production as an alternative means to find mating success.

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A gray-green salamander swims underwater

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When an axolotl loses a limb to a hungry predator, the missing appendage can regrow with bone, blood vessels, and muscles all intact. Scientists have isolated a small sequence of RNA in axolotls that is responsible for this regenerative ability. 

The axolotl is an aquatic salamander native to just two lakes near Mexico City called Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco. Both lakes are remnants of a larger lake system that was drained as the human population in Mexico City grew. The axolotl is now considered critically endangered due to habitat loss. 

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A group of cockroaches on a log

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Cockroaches have a well-earned reputation as a species likely to survive the apocalypse—after all, they can withstand decapitation. Because of their hardiness, cockroaches are the frequent subject of experimentation, and researchers have found that they can live for weeks without their heads

Cockroaches can survive beheading because they perform basic bodily functions much differently than mammals do. Rather than breathing through a mouth, they breathe through holes on their bodies called spiracles. They also have an open circulatory system, where blood flows freely through the body, which keeps blood pressure low. This means that even a large cut to a vital organ won't cause a fatal loss of blood.

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An orange and white clownfish swims in front of a sea anemone

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Clownfish can change sex from male to female to ensure that a group of fish can continue to reproduce. Though clownfish are not the only animals that can change sex, they are unique in that this behavior follows social cues, rather than being predetermined by age or size. 

Clownfish live in groups among sea anemones. Groups consist of one breeding male, one breeding female, and a number of smaller male fish that are not sexually mature. If the breeding female dies, her male mate changes sex and takes her place, while another male in the group rapidly gains size and takes over the role as the breeding male. 

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Superb Lyrebird

A large brown bird with a long tail and an open beak

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The superb lyrebird is a large Australian songbird that's capable of mimicking nearly anything it hears. In the wild, they mostly mimic other birds, and a single lyrebird can imitate an entire flock of another species. Captive lyrebirds, meanwhile, have been reported to mimic various noises, including car alarms, chainsaws, camera shutters, and flutes.

Some of the most amazing sounds it makes, however, are not mimicry at all. The male lyrebird's mating call includes a wide variety of clicks, thuds, and buzzes that sound mechanical to humans but are learned from its parents.

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A group of spotted dolphins swimming in the open ocean

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Dolphins emit high-pitched whistles and clicks and use the returning echoes to orient themselves, hunt for food, and even locate things behind walls or under the ocean floor. A unique tissue in the forehead called a melon helps dolphins to focus and direct the sounds they produce while echolocating. Researchers believe that dolphins also use their vocalizations to communicate with one another, which could help explain their intelligence and highly social behavior.