Updated: Feb 26
Many superhero characters have powers that are inspired by animal adaptations used every day for their own survival. For about a century, audiences have been captivated by costumed crime fighters with animal-like abilities protecting our universe. Super strength, strong webs, cat-like agility, and a bird’s eye precision are all examples of superpowers that have been derived from the animal world. So, what animal adaptations have we used in some of our favorite comic book icons? Let's get into it!
Ant-man has the power to change his size and become larger or smaller. When he is small, he still maintains his human strength, which for someone who is a half an inch tall could be considered super strength. As you might expect, his powers are based on the adaptations of ants, who also have super strength! An ant can lift up to 20 times their own body weight. If humans could do that, we could lift about 4,000lbs (1,814 kg), which is about the weight of an average car. Ants are capable of such feats because of the relationship between muscle strength and size. At a smaller size, the muscles don’t need to lift as much body weight, which allows them to be used more for lifting. Also, weight increases volumetrically (dimension cubed) while muscle increases its surface area (dimension squared). So, weight increases faster than muscles as you increase in size. But this benefits Ant-man when he is as small as an Ant!
Spider-Man is one of the most successful comic book heroes of all time. His powers to climb walls are based on spider’s abilities to climb walls, but his web slinging abilities are from his own invention and not one of his powers. In the comics his web can support 120 lbs. (54 kg) per square millimeter. The inspiration for this ability comes from real life spider silk that is incredibly strong relative to their size. In fact, spider silk is 5 times stronger than steel. New research has found that this is because it is made from thousands of nanostrands all woven together by the spider. And all together these nanostrands are still thinner than a human hair! Spiders need their webs to be strong so they can withstand the rapid movement of large, trapped insects, just as Spider-Man needs his webs to be strong to be able to swing around and stop his enemies.
The powers of black panther do not actually come from a black panther bite, like the spider bite that gives peter parker his powers, but instead he is gifted his abilities from a plant. But nonetheless, his powers do mimic the adaptations of black panthers, aka melanistic leopards. One of these abilities is super speed, which the black panther character matches the leopard at around 35 mph (56 kph). He is also strong, able to lift around 750 lbs. (340 kg). Leopards are also very strong, which allows them to take down animals up to ten times their weight with a swift bite to the neck. The speed and strength of a leopard allows them to be efficient hunters and the Black Panther to stand up to his enemies.
Although he has a bird in his name, Hawkeye’s ability is not flying, but his accuracy with his arrows. His good eye was inspired by the amazing eyes of birds of prey. A hawk’s eyes have about twelve times the number of cone cells in their retinas compared to humans. These cells are responsible for interpreting color vision. The sharpness of our vision increases with the number of cones we have. The front facing eyes of a hawk give them binocular vision, similar to humans, which helps them judge distance. But hawks take that to the next level, being able to see small mammals from 100ft (30m) in the air! This excellent vision allows hawks to be excellent aerial predators and Hawkeye to be a great shot!
The adaptations animals use to survive have inspired our favorite characters for many years. Some of these animal adaptations are far superior to our own and would be considered superhuman abilities if we possessed them. Whether it is the strength of an ant or a spider’s web, the speed of a panther, or the eyesight of a hawk, the animal world is filled with amazing adaptations. These animal adaptations have been used by costumed crusaders to uphold peace and justice in our universe.