01 August 2012


The 2012 Summer Olympic Games are in full swing in London.  As 10,500 athletes from 204 nations compete for fine-tuned excellence and recognition, I thought it only fair to remind us that predating the original Olympic Games (776 BC to 394 AD) between the city-states of ancient Greece, physical feats in the natural world have left humans in the dust.  Here is a sampling, courtesy of Alan Boyle ~
  • Sprint ~ the cheetah can accelerate to 70-75 mph over short distances, making it the fastest land animal.  (However, the pronghorn antelope can sustain speeds of 60-70 mph for miles, so it could probably outrun a cheetah.)
  • High jump ~ an insect called the common froghopper can jump vertically 115 times its own body length.  That's like a 6' human jumping 690 feet into the air.
  • Weightlifting ~ the rhinoceros beetle can lift more than 30 times its body mass.  Your average 340 lb. human would have to lift over half a ton to compare.
  • Archery ~ the archerfish has a specialized mouth which enables it to accurately aim water droplets at insects and even small animals perched on overhanging branches up to 10 feet above the water's surface ~ and hit the target on the first try nearly every time.
  • Boxing ~ during mating season, the female European hare stands on its hind legs and trades punches with the slightly smaller male.  Only the strongest males impress the females and get a chance to mate.  Better than any gold medal.
  • Gymnastics ~ the gibbon, hands down (and up, and sideways).  Check out this video of gibbons at a Thailand zoo.
  • Shooting ~ Himalayan balsam fruits open explosively, ejecting 2,500 seed for distances up to 23 feet, allowing seed dispersal and colonization of new areas.
  • Shot put ~ the Lammergeier, or bearded vulture, drops large bones from great heights to shatter them and eat the marrow inside.
  • Opening ceremonies ~ plenty of competition among flowers, but in deference to antiquity, we honor Zeus Olympius, a fungus found on Mount Olympus, the mythical home of the Greek gods.  The fungus opens its protective hood like an upside-down mushroom.
Humans cannot fly (alas), but since this is nature's Olympiad, special mention goes to the peregrine falcon, which can dive at speeds up to 200 mph.  Many, many other among nature's athletes deserve praise for their abilities.  Perhaps in a future post.

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