By Maneka Gandhi
If you meditate properly, over a period of time you can develop parts of your brain to do things that normal people can’t do: see amazing colors, listen to ethereal music, travel to different places while your body remains here, tolerate extreme heat and cold, live in underground chambers with very little oxygen, bring out fire from your mouth, heal yourself and others. These abilities are called sidhi and very few people acquire them. We adopt people who have them as our gurus.
But so many animals have siddhis that humans would kill to attain! Changing from male to female and back when necessary, fertilizing oneself, having eyes that walk across the face. So many species have superpowers, and it is so sad that instead of making them our gurus as well, we murder, even eat some of them.
The axolotl is a salamander that looks like a smiling dog with gills and lizard-like limbs – in fact its name means water dog. You will probably never see it because it is critically endangered and is now only found in Xochimilco, Mexico. It eats fish and worms.
The axolotl is the only creature in the world that can regenerate limbs, spines, and even brains without any scarring. You cut the spinal cord, crush it, remove a segment, and it will regenerate. You can cut the limbs at any level—the wrist, the elbow, the upper arm—and it will regenerate, and it’s perfect. There is nothing missing, there’s no scarring on the skin at the site of amputation, every tissue is replaced. They can regenerate the same limb 50, 60, 100 times. And every time: perfect. Technically, this animal should have lived forever – but we had to turn this miraculous creature into sandwich meat. It has been eaten to extinction. Inspite of its critical status, the Japanese are still importing it and serving it deep fried.
The combination of a duck, beaver and otter, the platypus was once as large as a dog and has slowly diminished to the size of a cat. Even though it’s a mammal it has no nipples and secretes milk through the pores on its stomach. It lays eggs. It is born with teeth which drop off later. It has spurs on its hind legs which produce deadly venom. It has no stomach to break down foods; simply an oesophagus connecting to an intestine. But none of this is as strange as the superpower it has: electrolocation.
People have heard of echolocation, which bats use, but electrolocation? This is the method of using electric fields to “see” objects. It can sense electrical signals sent from muscular contractions. The platypus does most of its hunting underwater despite being a mammal. It doesn’t use senses like vision, hearing, and smell. It finds prey based solely on electrical signals that it picks up using its bill. This allows the platypus to create a perfect representation of its surroundings to find prey. This amazing animal is also almost extinct because it was hunted for its fur that was made into rugs.
The octopus has many superpowers. The Thaumoctopus mimicus (mimic octopus), found in Indonesia, is a small brown octopus with white spots or stripes. Like other octopuses it has three hearts, eight arms and blue blood, and travels in search of bright shiny objects on the ocean floor, arranging them into gardens. It can use tools, solve problems and mazes, differentiate between patterns, disassemble objects, play and has smart and varied ways to escape predators. Octopuses can walk across the ocean floor using their eight arms. But they also travel via jet propulsion. An octopus sucks up water through a hole in its head, and seals off all other openings. When its mantle is full, the octopus contracts its muscles, squeezing all the water out in one go. The resulting force pushes the octopus quickly forward; as quick as 40 kilometres per hour! It produces ink in a special sac inside its body and releases it by contracting its muscles. This acts like a smokescreen, distracting the predator. Or it combines the ink with its mucus and releases it in blobs, some of which can look just like the octopus, serving as a decoy. Its main super ability is to transform itself into almost any creature depending on the threat it faces.
If threatened by a damselfish, it will impersonate a banded sea snake, which is a predator of the damselfish. It has the ability to mimic the flatfish, lion fish, sea snake, brittle star, sea anemone, jellyfish, stingray, crab, flounder, sole and shrimp among other creatures – and in the blink of an eye. It feeds on smaller fish, crabs, lobsters, and shrimp. It disguises itself as a rock against a suitable background of corals and sea rocks, and waits to hunt on its prey. The mimic octopus makes use of chromatophores present in the pigment sacs on its skin to transform its appearance. These pigment sacs can be expanded or contracted by the octopus to get the desired change of colour and appearance. The octopus can also contract its papillae (the projections on its skin), which can make it look smooth, spiky or bumpy; whatever texture it needs to be. Unfortunately this magical creature is eaten routinely.
The Electric eel is a sharp-toothed fish with a long, narrow body and flattened head. It is dark green or greyish on top and yellowish underneath. It can grow to 8 feet and lives in the streams of the Amazon basin of South America, feeding mainly on fish, amphibians, birds and small mammals. It gets its name from the enormous electrical charge it can generate to stun prey and dissuade predators. Its body contains electric organs along its sides with about 6,000 specialized cells, called electrocytes, that store power like tiny batteries. When threatened or when attacking prey, these cells will discharge simultaneously, emitting a burst of at least 600 volts, five times the power of a standard wall socket. Multiple shocks can cause respiratory or heart failure, and people and horses have been known to drown in shallow water after a stunning jolt. Even though its blood is toxic, it is eaten. Immortality would be the ultimate superpower. It exists in a hydrozoan, a small invertebrate creature 4 mm to 5 mm long, that looks like a jellyfish. Its name is Turritopsis dohrnii, commonly known as the immortal jellyfish. It refuses to die. When under physical or environmental stress it ages in reverse, growing younger and younger until it reaches its earliest stage of development, at which point it begins its life anew. The species — at any stage of its development — can transform itself back to a polyp, the organism’s earliest stage of life, escaping death and achieving potential immortality.
This finding debunks the most fundamental law of the natural world — you are born, and then you die. It is like a butterfly turning back into a caterpillar or a chicken into an egg. When it grows old or sick it will rebirth itself, often as much as ten timesin two years. During rejuvenation, it undergoes an unusual process by which one type of cell is converted into another — a skin cell into a nerve cell, for instance. In recent decades, the immortal jellyfish has rapidly spread throughout the world’s oceans. It is possible to imagine a future in which most other species of life are extinct but the ocean will consist overwhelmingly of immortal jellyfish.