7 Species With 'Superpowers' Thanks to Evolution and Invasion

Aggravate an African honeybee, also known as a 'killer bee,' and it'll chase you for a quarter mile and sting you 10 times as much as a European honeybee. JMK/Wikimedia Commons

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. One rodent built up such a tolerance to the poison used to exterminate it that it now eats the poison as food. One African bee escaped from captivity to breed with other bees and create a more deadly version of itself. In doing so, these and other animals have developed superpower-like abilities that don't seem possible.

1. Freeze-resistant super roaches

Periplaneta japonica, a cockroach from Japan
Periplaneta japonica, a cockroach from Japan, can withstand freezing temperatures and snow. Lyle Buss/University of Florida

New York City residents may recall the 2013 headlines about an Asian cockroach found in High Line Park on Manhattan’s West Side that can withstand frigid temperatures and snow. An exterminator found the bug and thought it looked different than your typical NYC roach, so he sent it to the University of Florida for analysis.

Rutgers insect biologists Jessica Ware and Dominic Evangelista identified the species as Periplaneta japonica, marking 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.

“About 20 years ago colleagues of ours in Japan reared nymphs of this species and measured their tolerance to being able to survive in snow. As the species has invaded Korea and China, there has been some confirmation that it does very well in cold climates, so it is very conceivable that it could live outdoors during winter in New York. That is in addition to its being well suited to life indoors alongside the species that already are here," Ware and Evangelista said in a statement.

But don't worry: You won't find swarms of freeze-resistant roaches around the Big Apple. “Because this species is very similar to cockroach species that already exist in the urban environment, they likely will compete with each other for space and for food," said Evangelista. And 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," Ware added.

2. Poison-proof rats 'as big as cats'

The Daily Mirror newspaper cover story on giant poison-proof rats in Liverpool, England.
The Daily Mirror newspaper cover story on giant poison-proof rats in Liverpool, England. Jonathan Deamer/flickr

In 2014, residents of Liverpool, England, smelled a rat — a giant one, in fact. So they called in pest control experts, who caught the rats and found some that were as big as cats. (It would sound like a Dr. Seuss rhyme if it weren't such a disturbing concept.)

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

Rat-catchers there told The Telegraph that calls about rat infestations had risen 15 percent and that the rodents were unaffected by traditional poisons — in fact, they gorged themselves on it. The use of anything stronger would require legislation, experts said.

Studies have shown that genetic mutations had produced a new type of "super rat" that accounts for up to 75 percent of the rat population in some areas of England.

3. Asian super ants

Lasius neglectus, an Asian fire ant
Invasive garden ants (Lasius neglectus) nurse a sick friend back to health. Chris Pull/Wikimedia Commons

England can't catch a break when it comes to freaky animal adaptations. A so-called "super ant" from Asia was first found in Gloucestershire in 2009, and wildlife experts sounded an alarm — a fire alarm, to be exact.

“The problems with them are they seem to get attracted to electricity and they can take up residence in plug sockets and power sources, creating a fire hazard," Jo Hodgkins, a wildlife adviser at the National Trust told The Telegraph. Because the ants are drawn to outlets and cables, they can spark fires. “They can easily establish themselves in somewhere like Britain and I would not be surprised if they colonised other areas. They are pretty tough little creatures.”

The ants, which are an invasive species that's relatively new to Europe, tend to nest in enormous numbers, according to the Invasive Species Compendium. More than 35,000 were found in that Gloucestershire nest.

4. 'Killer' bees

Mellifera scutellata, an African honey bee
Mellifera scutellata, an African honey bee, also known as an Africanized bee. Jeffrey W. Lotz, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services/Wikimedia Commons

These bees are like next generation honeybees. African honeybees reached the Americas when they were imported to Brazil in 1956 for cross-breeding with the local population, according to the Smithsonian. The goal was to produce more honey, but a few years later, swarms of bees and a few dozen queens escaped and formed 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.

Also known as Africanized bees, so-called "killer bees" have earned their name. The Smithsonian explains:

Africanized honey bees (killer bees) are dangerous because they attack intruders in numbers much greater than European honey bees. Since their introduction into Brazil, they have killed some 1,000 humans, with victims receiving ten times as many stings than from the European strain. They react to disturbances ten times faster than European honey bees, and will chase a person a quarter of a mile.

5. Formosan termites

Formosan termites
Formosan termites cause about $1 billion in damage each year in the Southern United States. Scott Bauer/Wikimedia Commons

What makes these termites so special? Their voracious billion-dollar appetites.

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

A colony, which contains about a million termites, won't just infest one building or one tree; they'll divide and conquer your entire property. So protecting one or the other from termites isn't an effective strategy.

In Florida and Louisiana, for example, pest control experts take a multi-pronged approach, including chemicals, bait traps and studying the insect to "exploit weaknesses in the pest's biology, growth, chemical communication, and behavior," the USDA says. The bait traps don't kill on contact, so the termite takes the poison back to the colony.

6. Pigeon-hunting catfish

Along the river Tarn in France, catfish have evolved and, like their feline namesakes, developed a fondness for birds — pigeons, to be specific. But how can a fish hunt a bird? Watch the video above and you'll see.

Just like killer whales launch themselves onto shorelines to snatch sea lions before wiggling back into the ocean, catfish take a similar approach. They lie in wait in shallow water until a clueless pigeon wanders just a little too close. Then they lurch out of the water, strand themselves onshore for a moment and thrash back into the river — ideally with a catch.

7. Drug-resistant bacteria

Drug-resistant bacteria
Drug-resistant bacteria are emerging around the world, making bacterial infections a threat once again. Sirirat/Shutterstock

Antibiotics, one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century, have saved millions of lives against bacterial infections. But now, drug-resistant bacteria are emerging worldwide, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), and bacterial infections are once again a threat.

Why are they on the rise? As the NIH explains: "The antibiotic resistance crisis has been attributed to the overuse and misuse of these medications, as well as a lack of new drug development by the pharmaceutical industry due to reduced economic incentives and challenging regulatory requirements."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2 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 the list.