Ninjas are one of the most popular and enduring warrior spies found in pop culture, despite the fact they all disappeared more than 400 years ago. The art of ninjitsu, a melding of the ways of the Samurai with Chinese warrior monks, is primarily practical – if a tactic is effective, then it is acceptable.
Ninja training involved mastering several skills, including karate, secretive communication, use of fire and water, fortification, strategy, teamwork, concealment, spear fighting & blade-throwing.
Much like these warriors of old, many of the bugs that we see every day exhibit some awesome ninja skills they were blessed with.
Secretive communication – Firefly bioluminescence
On warm summer nights, most kids like to run around collecting fireflies in jar. The bugs are fascinating because of the bioluminescence that gives them their name.
But when examined in a closer light, scientists have discovered that these gentle flying insects are using the flashes of radiance to communicate!
Fireflies can do a long or shorter burst of light, and they use this skill to communicate, morse code-style. What’s more, each species has its own unique light-up sequence that fireflies outside of their community can’t understand, allowing them to find their counterparts for mating.
Use of fire and water – Bees’ wings
Up until recently, according to the physical laws as we understood them, it was impossible for bees to fly. No one could figure out how these busy little pollinators stayed in the air to travel from plant to plant.
Recent discoveries, however, prove that bee’s take their ninja skills to the next level. Unlike planes that use the law of lift, pushing air down to rise up, bees wings flap back and forth.
The motion and angle of their wings actually creates very small hurricanes. As we in Florida know, the eye of a hurricane has lower pressure than the air around it. By generating these tiny hurricanes, bees are kept aloft by the low pressure system. How’s that for a ninja skill?
Fortification – Spider silk
In Marvel comics, Vibranium (Captain America’s shield) and Adamantium (Wolverine’s claws) are the toughest, strongest metals known. In the real world, one of the closest things we have is Kevlar, which is used to make bulletproof vests and military armor.
But the bug world has something stronger and lighter – spider silk. The thin strands that the spiders weave into webs – and you get all over yourself when you walk through a web – are three times tougher than Kevlar. Five times stronger than steel. And light as a feather.
To create the silk, spiders assemble proteins into long unbreakable chains in their abdomen, then squirt these protein chains out via spinnerets, that suck the water out, leaving the tough silk that the spider weaves into their web.
Strategy – Cicadas survival
Perhaps the strangest of the ninja skills of bugs is the life of the cicada. After birth, the nymph cicadas bury themselves underground for 13 or 17 years. When their time is up, millions of them emerge simultaneously, wreaking havoc on crops and giving birth to many more cicadas, who repeat the pattern.
Science can’t determine how millions of cicadas sync up their arrival, but they have some guesses as to why they were created with the strange skill.
First, the long intervals and short above ground life spans means that they have no natural predator – and even if they did, the cicadas would crush them beneath their superior numbers. And the numbers have further significance.
Both 13 and 17 are prime numbers (indivisible by any smaller number, save 1). Because the life span development is so staggered, unless a potential predator had a VERY long life (like say, 85 years), the chance of running into a predator that remembers the insects is astronomical.
Teamwork – Desert Locust swarm
Close cousins to the cicadas, locusts also exhibit some unexplained, yet impressive ninja skills as a group.
While typically remembered in swarms ravaging the crops, like in the Biblical plague in Egypt, desert locusts are generally quite shy and keep to themselves.
However, when serotonin, a neurochemical, builds up on their abdomens, an otherwise unconnected group of locusts can form up into a highly functional swarm for protection.
The swarm moves as one, and can actually pick up stray locusts, even adding another smaller swarm to their numbers, with no clearly observable change in status. The prevailing belief is that they operate via pheromones and by staying in a crowd, each individual protects all of the others.
Concealment – Cockroaches’ nuclear survival
We all laugh at the videos from the 1950’s that encourage school children to ‘duck and cover’ in the event of a nuclear attack. We now know that school desks provide zero real protection. But one thing the scientists 60 years ago did get right – given a nuclear assault, cockroaches will inherit the earth.
Cockroaches can withstand significantly higher radiation levels than humans and most animals. This is due to the fact that their cells divide far less often than humans. In fact, the only time the cockroach is vulnerable to nuclear attack is during the two days a week when it is molting. So keep that in mind if you ever find yourself in the midst of a sci-fi B movie.
Spear fighting & blade-throwing – Scorpion’s glow in the dark weapons & armor
Probably the one bug you can easily picture as a ninja is the scorpion with their poisonous tails and tight gripping pinchers. Except they’re not bugs. They are distantly related to spiders, so that helps. But we really wanted to mention them because of their extra special ninja power.
Scorpions have the added advantage of distraction – In addition to their sharp ninja weapons, they also glow in the dark, disrupting the senses of potential enemies.
And you thought ninjas were just a bunch of crazy warriors who fight guys while decked out in black pajamas…