Following the shocking twists and turns in Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel fans will be relieved to hear that sequel Avengers: Endgame is almost here (latest trailer below)… Guinness World Records embarks on a mission of its own: to track down animals that are superheroes in their own right.
The Incredible Hulk
The title of "strongest animal" is very complex, because strength comes in many forms, and also greatly varies depending on relative size.
What we can say definitively is that the strongest insects are the larger beetles of the Scarabaeidae family – such as the rhinoceros beetle – found mainly in the tropics.
In tests, specimens were reportedly able to support a Hulk-worthy 850 times their own weight on their backs. While in another study, the horned dung beetle – another member of the scarab beetle family – has been documented pulling 1,141 times its own body weight, which equates to a human dragging six double-decker buses!
By contrast, the greatest weight ever lifted by a human is 2,422.18 kg (5,340 lb), by Canadian Gregg Ernst in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, Canada, on 28 July 1993. He raised two cars plus their drivers on a platform, supporting the full weight on his back; it constituted roughly 17 times his body weight. It's a mark of the magnitude of Gregg's achievement that his record has remained unbroken for more than 25 years now.
The heaviest strongman deadlift is 500 kg (1,102 lb), by the "The Beast", aka UK weightlifter Eddie Hall, in Leeds, UK, on 9 July 2016.
These truly are superhuman feats – and they take a huge toll on the body. Eddie collapsed after setting the record, as the extreme exertion had caused blood vessels in his head to burst!
For those who lack superpowers, they must rely on fighting prowess and lethal weapons. Black Widow’s gauntlets, or “Widow Stings”, can unleash 30,000-volt energy blasts, the effects of which last for up to a month. While rather less powerful, the 650-volt shock delivered by an electric eel, or poraquê – the most electric fish – is easily enough to stun an adult human.
Reaching up to 1.8 m (6 ft) in length, and native to rivers in Brazil and the Guianas, this relative of the piranha has an electrical apparatus comprising two pairs of longitudinal organs and is live from head to tail.
Could a human being ever dispense an electrical charge, superhero style? They can – and they do: Australia's sideshow performer “Space Cowboy”, aka Chayne Hultgren, occasionally transforms himself into a human electricity conductor.
On 9 February 2017, he passed 230 volts through his body from a high-frequency generator, then used the charge within his body to ignite a row of 16 fuel-soaked torches – the most torches lit with the body in one minute.
Needless to say, GWR strongly advises you not to try such a feat at home…
The archer fish is the aquatic version of sharp-shooter Hawkeye, firing jets of water rather than arrows.
It lurks beneath the water's surface watching out for insects on land to attack. By pressing its tongue against a groove in its mouth, the fish forms an oral tube. Closing its gills, it then forces a stream of water down this channel, which shoots into the air, dislodging any unsuspecting insect prey from their perches.
The farthest range for an archer fish is around 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in). Scaled up to our size, this is equivalent to us spitting at something accurately – and with sufficient force – to dislodge an object around 10 m (32 ft) away!
The leader of The Avengers bears a signature shield that serves as a formidable weapon as well as a protective barrier. Leaf-beetle larvae have an equivalent in a "faecal shield", created from their poo and discarded pieces of exoskeleton.
Different species create their own variations of the shield, which may cover all or only part of the body, and be of varying degrees of hardness. Toxic chemicals (including fatty acids and steroidal alkaloids) that the larvae digest when feeding on plants are excreted in their faeces and can add to the shield’s defensive properties.
Research has shown that when certain ants come into contact with one, they retreat and quickly start cleaning themselves. It’s hard to imagine Captain America ever fighting with a "poo shield", but it would certainly make Thanos think twice!
Black Panther’s Marvel Cinematic Universe debut came in Captain America: Civil War, but it was with his eponymous 2018 movie that he started racking up GWR records, from highest-grossing superhero origin movie ($1.3 bn, or £1 bn, as of 15 March 2019) to first superhero movie nominated for a Best Picture Oscar (along with six other categories) and most Oscars won by a superhero movie (three).
In fact, there's no such species as a black panther. We use the term to describe a colour variant of a big cat. Most often, the name is applied to leopards (in Africa and Asia) and jaguars (in Central and South America).
You wouldn’t want to make an enemy of either T’Challa or his feline namesakes, though. The jaguar delivers the strongest big-cat bite (relative to body size) – a force of 705 kg (1,554 lb). It's around twice as strong as that of a lion and more than sufficient to crack skulls and turtle shells or even pierce through a caiman’s tough, armour-like skin.
Peter Parker is still a newbie when it comes to the art of mastering sticky silk… Real-life spiders have been slinging webs to devastating effect for nearly 400 million years.
The strongest spider silk is spun by the Darwin’s bark spider, native to Madagascar. Amazingly, its silk is 10 times stronger than Kevlar, the synthetic fibre used in bulletproof vests and bicycle tyres. Super-elasticity is the key here – the silk can stretch a long way before it finally snaps.
Spider-Man climbs walls as well as slinging webs, of course. That comes naturally to geckoes, which use their feet to adhere to challenging surfaces such as ceilings or walls. But what makes their feet so sticky?
Geckoes’ bulbous toes are coated with millions of microscopic hairs; electrons within the follicles’ molecules interact with those in the surface, setting up an electromagnetic attraction that enables the animals to hold on to the most precarious spots.
The largest gecko ever was the now-extinct Delcourt’s giant gecko, at 61 cm (2 ft) in length, known only from a taxidermied specimen that came to light in 1979 in the basement of the Marseilles Natural History Museum in France.
Avengers: Endgame is released in UK cinemas on 25 April and in US theatres on 26 April
Avengers: Endgame poster: Disney / Marvel Studios