Five animals that can sense things you can’t
Which mammal can detect a human pregnancy?
The more we learn about other species, the less impressive even our sharpest sensory powers become. Take sight: Pit vipers have infrared vision, bees can view ultraviolet light, and electric eels use their zaps to “see” through the murky waters of the Amazon. These animals and others have evolved to experience aspects of the world that sit beyond the borders of our perception. And some of their superpowers would be downright awful if ported over to a human: Imagine having taste receptors all over your body, as is the case for a catfish. (Public restrooms? No, thank you.) Still, it’s easy to envy the fantastic abilities of some of these critters.
Blood Vision: These suckers can “see” blood thanks to heat-sensitive channels in their noses. Fat and juicy vessels emit warmth, and the flying mammals track those temperatures on food sources like tapirs, cattle, and chickens.
Size: 3 in. Location: The Americas Prey: Birds, mammals, livestock Nemesis: Getting stepped on
Heat Sensitivity Bat: 86°F Human: 109°F
Echo Utero: Soft materials like sand can’t hide a dolphin’s prey; their echolocation allows them to glimpse inside. This has led some scientists to speculate that the sea mammals might even be able to detect human pregnancies.
Size: 10-14 ft. Location: Middle latitudes around the world Effectiveness as pregnancy test: Debatable Nemesis: Sharks, orcas
Echolocation Range Dolphin: 300 ft. Bat: 33 ft.
Wired Whiskers: Seeing and hearing are no problem for seals, but they use another sense to catch dinner. Their 80 whiskers—attached to thousands of sensory receptors—can still detect the path of a fish minutes after it’s fled the scene.
Size: 5 ft. Location: Northern coastlines Fish-Tracking Range: 2 football fields Nemesis: Sharks, orcas, background noise
Nerve Endings Found in Each Whisker Harbor Seal: Up to 1,500 Cat: 200
Sheet Web Spider
Spidey Sense: Electric-field-detecting leg hairs cue these crawlers to go “ballooning” in favorable skies. When they sense a positive atmospheric charge, they release a strand of negatively charged silk, which helps them slip upward and catch a ride on the wind.
Size: <1 in. Location: Just about everywhere Alias: Aeroplankton Weakness: Landing in the ocean
Distance They Can Glide Sheet Web Spider: 1,000 mi. Flying Squirrel: 300 ft.
iFoot: Pachyderm feet packed with vibration-sensing nerve endings can feel low-frequency trumpeting from up to 9 miles away. The animals can even tell who’s calling—and from where.
Size: 9-11 ft. tall Location: Africa and Asia Power Move: Pressing down to boost the size of their feet antennae Nemesis: Poachers, noise pollution
Lowest-Frequency Hearing Elephant: 14 Hz Human: 20 Hz
This story originally published in the Out There issue of Popular Science.