8 Species With 'Superpowers' Thanks to Evolution and Invasion

Freeze-resistant cockroaches, poison-proof rats, and killer bees are just a few of the animals that developed extraordinary abilities to stay alive.

africanized killer honey bee rests on flower

Damiao Paz / Getty images

Imagine if nature or the circumstances of your environment forced you to adapt in a dramatic way. What if, for example, you had to learn to jump higher to reach your food or adjust your body temperature to survive in colder temperatures?

The animals here have accomplished similar feats just to stay alive, developing superpower-like abilities that don't seem possible. But make no mistake: These creatures — and their surprising skills — are completely real.

Freeze-Resistant Cockroaches

japanese cockroach found in japan

Nesnad / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

New York City residents may recall the 2013 headlines about an Asian cockroach found on the High Line — an elevated park on Manhattan’s west side — that can withstand frigid temperatures and snow. It was first discovered by an exterminator who noticed that it looked different from the cockroaches typically found in New York.

Rutgers insect biologists Jessica Ware and Dominic Evangelista identified the species as Periplaneta japonica, which is native to Japan and able to live in colder climates. This discovery marked the first time the Asian cockroach has been found in the United States; scientists believe the critter hitched a ride from overseas along with some ornamental plants being used to decorate the park.

In a statement, Ware and Evangelista described their past experience with the species, noting that considering it thrived in cold climates after invading Korea and China, it is "very conceivable that it could live outdoors during winter in New York."

But don't worry: You won't find swarms of freeze-resistant roaches around the Big Apple. Ware and Evangelista expect that because Periplaneta japonica is similar to the cockroaches species common in New York, they will compete with one another. Ware even added that as they compete, “their combined numbers inside buildings could actually fall because more time and energy spent competing means less time and energy to devote to reproduction."

Poison-Immune 'Super Rats'

In 2014, Liverpool, England was forced to confront a shockingly large rat issue — a "plague" of shockingly large rats. Rat-catchers there told the Daily Mail that calls about rat infestations had risen 15 percent over the year, and that the rats captured were sometimes as big as cats.

But these rodents were not only massive, they were also immune to poison.

Pest control experts described that the rodents were unaffected by traditional poisons; in fact, they gorged themselves on it. The use of anything stronger would require legislation, and experts called on the EU to approve a more effective rodenticide.

Studies have shown that genetic mutations have produced a new type of "super rat" that is immune to conventional poisons, and that this variation accounts for up to 75 percent of the rat population in some areas of England.

Electric Ants

The super rats weren't the first extraordinary animal adaptation to grace England. In 2009, the carcasses of more than 35,000 invasive garden ants (Lasius neglectus) were found in an electrical box in Gloucestershire. The discovery of these critters — also known as Asian super ants and fire ants — was cause for alarm — specifically, a fire alarm.

These ants have a powerful attraction to electricity, stronger than their need for food or drink, that drives them toward cables, power sources, and plug sockets, in which they take up residence. Ultimately, this creates a fire hazard because of the potential for sparks.

Asian super ants are a highly invasive species because of their creation of supercolonies, which contain multiple nests and multiple queens. This, combined with their prolific reproductive habits, means that a single infestation could contain hundreds of millions of individuals.

Killer Bees

close up of fuzzy black and yellow killer bee resting on ground

Jeffrey W. Lotz, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

The Africanized bee — known colloquially as the "killer" bee — came about through a combination of error and opportunity. It first arrived in the Americas in 1956 when a number of colonies were imported to Brazil. The goal was for them to cross-breed with the local population to increase honey production. However, years later, multiple swarms and 26 queens escaped and went on to form hybrid populations with European honeybees.

The bees spread north through South and Central America at a rate of 100 to 200 miles per year, and they're now as far north as the southern United States.

Because of their defensiveness and general vicious streak, this killer bee has earned its name. They are quick to attack, and they sting as much as 10 times more than the European honeybee. They are perseverant too, able (and willing) to chase someone for a quarter of a mile. Up to 1,000 humans have died by their attack.

Expensive Termites

one tan Formosan termite crawls between two wood boards

United States Department of Agriculture / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

All termites cause damage, but Formosan termites (Coptotermes formosanus) rise above the rest because of their voracious billion-dollar appetites.

Formosan termites hail from East Asia and now occupy about a dozen states in the southern U.S, where they cost approximately $1 billion per year in property damages, repairs, and control measures, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The reason why these termites are so catastrophic is a combination of their numbers and their foraging range. A colony can contain several million individuals, and they don't stop at infesting just one building; they'll divide and conquer an entire property including trees and adjacent structures. Therefore, protecting just one entity from the termites is not an effective strategy.

In Florida and Louisiana, for example, pest control experts take a multi-pronged approach to controlling infestations. This includes chemicals, bait traps, and studying the insect to "exploit weaknesses in the pest's biology, growth, chemical communication, and behavior," says the USDA. Because the laced bait trap does not kill immediately, the termite takes the poison back to the colony with the potential to affect other members.

Pigeon-Hunting Catfish

front view of large catfish with long whiskers swimming underwater

Dieter Florian / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

 

Along the river Tarn in France, catfish have, like their feline namesakes, developed a fondness for birds — pigeons, to be specific. But how can a fish hunt a bird?

These catfish (Silurus glanis) lie in wait in shallow water until a pigeon comes by to clean or bathe. Then, the catfish lurch out of the water, strand themselves onshore for a moment to attempt a catch, and thrash back into the river. Researchers from the University of Toulouse in France studied this behavior and found that the catfish had a 28 percent success rate in bird capture.

While particular to catfish in this location, the hunting technique is not unheard of. Killer whales do the same to snatch sea lions, and bottlenose dolphins have been known to use this method to catch fish.

Frozen Frogs

brown wood frog sits alert in dirt and rocks

Joe McDonald / Getty Images

The Asian cockroach may be resistant to the cold, but the wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) actually freezes as a survival technique. Found mostly in the United States and Canada, the wood frog can survive temperatures as low as seven degrees Fahrenheit because of its ability to place itself in a kind of months-long suspended animation.

The frog's trick is storing large amounts of urine in its blood. When the weather gets cold and its blood begins to freeze, the liver releases glucose that combines with the urine to produce a kind of antifreeze that limits how much ice is formed within the frog's body. Because of this, the frog can survive for months with two-thirds of its body completely frozen, even though its organs — including its lungs — stop working and its heart stops beating.

So long as the frog does not lose more than 60 percent of its water throughout this time, it will thaw easily and return to regular life when the weather becomes warm again.

Drug-Resistant Bacteria

red bacteria contained in glass disk

Sirirat / Shutterstock

As one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century, antibiotics have saved millions of lives from dangerous bacterial infections. But now, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, there are bacteria resistant to these drugs, making infections a threat once again.

Why have they come about? One writer for the journal Pharmacy and Therapeutics explained that, ironically, the overuse of antibiotics is to blame: "Epidemiological studies have demonstrated a direct relationship between antibiotic consumption and the emergence and dissemination of resistant bacteria strains." In other words, bacteria have evolved to combat the antibiotics.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two million people are infected each year with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and about 23,000 people die from it, making this "superpower" the most dangerous one on our list.