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Ant-Man's Real-Life Rivals

They may be small, but they're strong. Real-life creatures with amazing superpowers.

From bugs faster than a speeding bullet to a shrimp with Überspeedy strikes, some animals' talents rival the abilities of comic-book heroes.

The comic-book hero Ant-Man, which hits the big screen in North America on July 17, may be small—but he's got some serious superpowers.

In the movie based on Marvel's Avengers series, a blast of atom-squeezing particles transforms Ant-Man from human to insect size. Even at just 0.5 inch (1.3 centimeters), he maintains his original speed and strength.

Impressive as Ant-Man's fictional feats may be, he might find himself trounced by some of the world's fastest and strongest creatures, which also come in very small packages.

From ants with incredibly strong jaws to shrimp with uber-speedy strikes, many animals are worthy of superhero status.

"We tend to associate fast things with large stuff in engineering because we power using combustion. But you can get more muscle power at a smaller size," says Sheila Patek, a biologist at Duke University.

Here are a few examples of what nature has to offer—should the Avengers come a-calling.

Ants: Speed and Strength

When it comes to raw strength, it's tough to beat Allegheny mound ants. They can lift 1,000 times their body weight, and their necks can withstand forces up to 5,000 times their weight, according to Vienny Nguyen, a robotic engineer at NASA.
"The membrane that connects the head to the body has a lot of folds with microstructures, similar to Velcro," says Nguyen. "When ants hold up their necks, the angle adds more friction to the folds for more strength."
Converted to human scale, that kind of strength would enable a 180-pound man to lift about 81.6 tons, similar to the weight of a Boeing 737*.
* Maximum take-off weight of a Boeing 737-700 is 85.4 tons.
More ant wonders abound: Some species can stop enemies in their tracks by shooting foam from their abdomens. Others explode, covering foes in gooey glue.

Mantis Shrimp: Super Smasher

Though only two inches (five centimeters) long, the peacock mantis shrimp delivers quite the punch.
The crustacean uses its claw to smash snail shells at speeds between 45 and 65 miles (72 and 104 kilometers) an hour. The speedy strike heats up surrounding water and vaporizes it.
The mantis shrimp's clobber wields nearly force of a .22-caliber bullet. Add to that a double whammy of the shock wave from vaporizing water, and its prey has little chance of survival. Thor meets Aquaman? This doesn't even need to be converted to human scale to be amazing!
Mantis shrimps also have complex eyes that are extremely good UV light sensors—but no one knows why.

Clingfish: Super Suckers

If the plan is to stay put, clingfish have it covered. These three-inch-long (eight centimeters) ocean dwellers have suction discs on their abdomens that can grip with a force of 150 times their body weight.
The secret to this incredible strength is layering. The rim of the suction disk is lined with tiny papillae, each with smaller hairs that each have even smaller filaments. "They can detach, swim to a new rock, and attach in milliseconds," says Petra Ditsche, a fish biologist at the Friday Harbor Laboratories in Washington State.
It's a vital skill in tidal pools, where waves can knock the fish around, she adds.
This power in the hands of a human would be equivalent to being able to hold a clinging school bus.

Froghoppers: Super Jumpers

Faster than a speeding bullet—no, really—and about the size of one, the 0.25-inch-long (six millimeters) froghopper can jump out of harm's way at about 13,000 feet (3,900 meters) a second.
That's about 8,800 miles an hour (14,000 kilometers), which is more than twice the speed of a Winchester .223 super short magnum, the fastest gun.
The launching speed propels the insect about 27 inches (70 centimeters) into the air, which exerts 400 g-forces, a measurement of acceleration.
The record for the most g-forces ever endured by people is 83g, set during a 1958 Air Force experiment.
Translated to human scale, that superpower would equal jumping 805 feet.
Developing froghoppers also create a foam barrier on a plant to protect them as they change into adults.
Heck, even Superman needed a phone booth.