Animals with insane abilities

Nature's a weird place, full of snuggles and murder, usually in equal parts. It's a tough world out there, and there's a number of animals who have developed some pretty insane ways of coping. We're going to expose some of them, and you'll never look at nature quite the same way again. We won't.

Lyrebirds mimic everything from other birds to chainsaws, cameras, and laser guns

Parrots are impressive, right? They can learn human words and, in some particularly epic instances, they can learn how to swear. They're amateurs, however, compared to the lyrebird, who might be the best mimic and impressionist we've ever seen. It took us a long time to figure this out, too — the British first saw wild lyrebirds around 1800, but it wasn't until the 1930s that we realized they were amazing.

Appearance-wise, lyrebirds are about a seven at best, and that's only because of the male lyrebird's massive tail — otherwise, we'd give these pheasant-sized ground-dwellers a three. That tail is only part of the male lyrebird's appeal, though, and every year between June and August, the male enters into full courtship mode. The organ that allows all birds to chirp, sing, and curse is called the syrinx, and the lyrebirds have the most complex syrinx in the bird world. They can not only learn a huge range of calls, but they're known to be able to mimic the calls and songs of at least 20 other species. As if that isn't cool enough, some males have been recorded singing the songs of multiple birds at the same time, performing a duet all by themselves. The really talented ones? They're a full symphony.

Still not impressed? (You're hard to please.) Lyrebirds can also mimic other animals. They've been caught barking like dingoes, and that alone is enough to make us want one for a pet. Now that humans have ventured farther and farther into their territory, they're picking up other sorts of songs, too. There's all sorts of videos circulating of lyrebirds mimicking mechanical sounds like chainsaws and cameras, but we're pretty sure we've found the best of the lot. That little guy in the vieo above lives in the Healesville Sanctuary in Australia — somewhere along the line, someone let him watch a late-night sci-fi movie, and he picked up the ability to make laser gun sounds. We're impressed, little guy, and we're sure the lady lyrebirds are, too.

Spiny mice regenerate skin and entire body parts

You've probably heard about some lizards, and other generally slimy creatures, that can detach their tails to escape prey, and grow the missing bits back later. That's solely been an amphibian thing, until scientists discovered a mouse that can do the same thing. And they're adorable.

They're called African spiny mice, and they're not actually spiny. What they are is weird, and they have a defense mechanism that's similar to salamanders. When scientists tried to catch them in the wild, they'd not only shed their tails, but slide off pieces of their skin to escape capture. When they did, those scientists realized that, in order to lose so much skin, they needed to be able to re-grow it pretty quickly. We realized something different entirely, and that's that the scientists involved were monsters.

By the end of their experiments, they found that the mice were completely replacing everything, from hair follicles to fat cells, and even entire sections of their ears. Where other mice would form scars to cover their injuries, spiny mice could create new tissue that was, on a microscopic level, the same as their original healthy tissues.

Isolating just how they're able to do it might mean advances in our own medical knowledge, and we're just hoping that figuring it out doesn't mean skinning more mice. That's just wrong.

Pistol shrimp make bullets out of air bubbles

The ocean is the world's final, uncharted frontier, and there's a lot of weird stuff down there that we're only now discovering. One of the weirdest has to be the pistol shrimp, an appropriately-named little creature that's basically the ocean's Roland Deschain. The shrimp's claws (which can grow to be abnormally large in comparison to a relatively small body) are made up of two parts, and when the shrimp snaps them shut? It's a huge problem for anything that happens to be in the line of fire.

The pressure formed when the claws snap shut does a few wild things. The speed at which the water around the claw is displaced creates a change in pressure that makes bubbles swell until they collapse. When they do, for a brief instant they reach a temperature around 8,000 Fahrenheit, and make a sound that registers at 210 decibels. (An inferior real pistol clocks in at around 150 decibels.) It also creates a shockwave of energy that can stun (if not outright kill) what's in its way. Some have even been known to use their claw guns to burrow their way through rock and make little homes for themselves. If they happen to lose one of their claws, they can re-grow them after a series of moltings, and they're also known for disrupting our underwater sonar and electronic equipment with all the noise they make.

You'd think that they'd be pretty terrifying, and that all the other fish in the reef would be afraid of these mad, pistol-wielding shrimp. But they actually fill an ecological role: an underwater construction worker, known for building burrows for other creatures, using their water jets to keep those burrows clean, and building their own extensive colonies, not unlike the social cities of bees. We suppose it's a little like the Wild West, where everyone's got a gun and no one's afraid to use it.

Turritopsis jellyfish can age backwards

The turritopsis jellyfish is another one of the ocean's weirdest creatures, and these guys have the bizarre ability to age backwards. Most of the time, they're pretty normal — like the rest of us, they're born, they age. and they die. But, in times of extreme stress, famine, or any kind of environmental catastrophe, an adult jellyfish does what we all wish we could do when stressed out: become a child again. It actually has the ability to turn back into its embryonic stage, when its cells are in a state where they can essentially grow up to be any other type of cell a jellyfish needs. In this baby state, the jellyfish can reproduce itself and spawn an entire colony of new, genetically identical jellyfish.

Even though we've known about the existence of this particular jellyfish since the 1880s, it took us more than a century to realize they had the ability to age backwards, and essentially become immortal. This ability gives it another leg up on survival, too, as the jellyfish can hitch a ride on ocean currents to spread to almost anywhere in the world, then grow up to adapt to life in their new environment. They're even known to grow a different number of tentacles (anywhere from 8 to 24) depending on where they end up, even though specimens from all over the world are genetically identical.

Unlocking these particular secrets might lead us to some major medical advancements, and who knows? We think it'd be a great way to colonize other planets, forever.

The alpine ibex can climb vertical walls

Even if you only have the tiniest bit of vertigo, that video should be enough to make your head spin. The alpine ibex has the death-defying ability to climb sheer walls so close to being vertical, you won't care for specifics like degrees and angles.

The ibex are famous for being able to bound their way across some of the most dizzying, mountaintop territories in the world, but scaling this particular dam in Italy is a whole other demonstration of mind-boggling determination. That's doubly true, considering these particular ibex are thumbing their noses at gravity while they have their babies in tow, who are also learning pretty quickly how to scale sheer cliff faces.

So why are they doing it? The Cingno dam was built with a particular type of mineral-rich rock, and the ibex need those minerals to keep their bones and nervous systems functioning at their peak. Split hooves and muscular hindquarters all help them scale the most nightmare-inducing walls, and we're pretty sure they have something else going for them, too: a whole lot of chutzpah.

Darwin's bark spider spins webs stronger than Kevlar that span entire rivers

Spiders give us the heebie-jeebies, but this one's extra creepy. The Darwin's bark spider is native to Madagascar, which is right up there with Australia when it comes to large-scale creepy. One little spider (they're about the size of a thumb-nail) can spin a web that covers an area up to 30 square feet, that's suspended on anchor webbing that's up to 80 feet long. Scientists think that the spiders evolved this particular (and terrifying) ability after Madagascar split from mainland Africa, to take advantage of the wide, open spaces and air currents that existed above local rivers.

We're not done yet, either. If you're thinking that these webs need to be pretty strong to withstand those same air currents that are presumably delivering dinner right into the web, you'd be right. The strands are about 10 times stronger than Kevlar, and have an elasticity that allows them to bend and stretch before they break. Plus, any time threads do break (or are cut on purpose), the spider consumes the strands, in what has to be the most disturbing recycling program ever.

No one's sure just how the spiders make so much webbing, or how they do it so quickly. A single spider can build the entire web in only a few hours, and that's making us look at those spidery scenes from Lord of the Rings with a whole new sort of terror.

The red fox uses Earth's magnetic field as a targeting system

Make sure you check out the video on this one, and not just because we could watch these foxes do their snow-jumping routine all day long. It's pretty impressive, watching them pad their way across the surface of the snow, then stop, dive headfirst, and come up with a meal. For a long time, we thought they were just listening for their prey. Now, we know they have the equivalent of a state-of-the-art targeting system that relies on their ability to sense Earth's magnetic field.

The details on what's going on here are still a little hazy, but researchers found that, when foxes did their snow-jump, they aligned themselves in a position that meant they were jumping about 20 degrees northeast of magnetic north. As long as they were facing this direction, they came up with a kill about 73 percent of the time. Any other direction, and that dropped off to about 18 percent. You don't have to like math to know that's a huge difference, and it's thought that the fox is relying on a few different senses to pinpoint the oblivious prey hiding beneath the snow. Their directional sense works like a targeting system, relying on their sense of hearing to detect the prey, then switching over to magnetic targeting.

Researchers think that foxes are outfitted with cells in their eyes that are sensitive to the planet's magnetic field. These cells likely reflect a sort of aura onto their eyes, allowing them to calculate the arc of their jumps, and change direction in midair if they need to. Exactly how it works is still unknown, and while they'd be the only mammal that can do this, there are other precedents for the ability. Birds have "magnetite crystals" in their brains that help them navigate, and that's impressive, too. But Terminator-style targeting? That's just awesome.

Bombardier beetles release a liquid that causes chemical burns

Bombardier beetles are only about half an inch long, and they live all over the world (except on Antarctica, because they're deadly, not insane). Wherever they live, they tend to thrive, because no one wants to mess with a beetle that can spray out a high-speed, pulse jet of boiling liquid.

For real. The beetles produce a chemical called benzoquione, and they're not the only ones to do it. They are, though, the only ones that make it boil on its way out, and project it in such a blinding jet of angry. They can do it because they have a chamber in their abdomens that's solely dedicated to mixing two separate, and very different chemicals (hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinones) in a literal flash. Once the two chemicals are combined, they not only become super-heated, but the pressure from the heat expels them, well, rather quickly. The blast is enough to give even the largest predators second thoughts about whatever it was they were about to do

What's weirdest of all? Most beetles contain quantities of both hydrogen peroxide (one of the body's natural byproducts) and hydroquinones (used to keep beetles' shells hard and crunchy). Somehow, the evolutionary process of the bombardier beetles decided that just getting rid of these chemicals was a waste of perfectly good explosives, and hey, look what we can do now!

The desert grasslands whiptail lizard is an all-female species that still manages to reproduce

It's one of the most basic rules of biology, right? Most species of anything need male and female cells to kick-start babymaking. The desert grasslands whiptail lizard, meanwhile, wants nothing to do with your oppressive lifestyle opinions or gender restrictions — this species is 100% female and still reproducing, so take that, traditional marriage honks.

They're doing quite well, too, with more than a million individuals estimated to be roaming the deserts of the southwestern US. They're doing it with a process called meiosis, in which a single lizard's cells divide to form what's called, appropriately enough, daughter cells. Once the original cell divides, the DNA in the cells multiplies, too. Since each baby lizard is born from a single parent, all the young ones are clones of the adults and each other, as a single nest usually contains one to three eggs. That also means that every adult female can reproduce like this — in turn, that means there's a massive population of these little ladies running around the southwest. Unfortunately, the lack of genetic variation also means that the species is vulnerable to disease, but so far? They're doing just fine.

Weirdly, the lizards don't just seem to reproduce without any males, they're also occasionally seen engaging in pseudo-mating behavior. It's unclear whether or not this has any practical application — some think that it helps stimulate the reproductive process, but it's also entirely possible that these little ladies are just loving life.

Caterpillars digest themselves before turning into butterflies (and their brains remember it all)

It's one of the first things we learn about in science class: that caterpillars spin themselves up into a neat little package and come out as a butterfly. Did you ever really think about how that all works, however? If not, stick with us for some pretty traumatic stuff, which will explain why your teacher never told the whole story.)

You know the caterpillar seals itself into its chrysalis first, and then? Well, then it releases a whole bunch of enzymes that digest almost its entire body. We say almost, because cells called imaginal discs remain. These cells are always in the caterpillar — they're created when it first starts to grow from a baby barely-caterpillar, and there's one for each part of the adult butterfly's body. Once the caterpillar's completely digested into goop, the cells take over and start using the raw materials that just got gooped out to form the structures of the butterfly.

It's only fairly recently that we've been able to get an inside look at the whole process, with advances in imaging technology that have allowed us to get a peek into just what's going on inside the chrysalis.

That's pretty horrible, right? More horrible, you demand? Sure! Caterpillars that are taught things as caterpillars actually remember them as butterflies, meaning they also remember their gooping, self-dissolving phase. On the plus side, that means whatever else happens to the poor creature, they've already lived through the worst thing we can possibly imagine.