Rutendo and Sebastian get to indulge their passions for nature AND superheroes, as they look at real-life superpowers in nature.

Rutendo explores how these superpowers inspire fictional worlds and heroes with evolutionary biologist Mike McHargue. Mike helps writers and film-makers integrate accurate and consistent science into their stories, and together he and Rutendo invent a brand new superhero.

Rats seem unlikely superheroes but in Tanzania they’re being trained to save lives. Their acute sense of smell means they can detect landmines, and sniff out illegal wildlife being trafficked in shipping containers. We drop in on their training at non-profit organisation, APOPO.

Sebastian’s favourite superhero is Spiderman, whose spider-sense gives him advance warning of impending danger. This superpower is used every day by real spiders whose special leg hairs can sense vibrations. Web-building spiders use this superpower to build a mental map of the world around them by detecting and decoding the tiny vibrations created by anything that touches their web. Through a special program designed by experts at MIT, we hear a digital version of this experience, turning the web into a musical instrument with thousands of unique notes.


The BBC Earth podcast is presented by Sebastian Echeverri and Rutendo Shackleton.

This episode was produced by Rachel Byrne and Geoff Marsh.

The researcher was Seb Masters.

The Production Manager was Catherine Stringer and the Production Co-ordinator was Gemma Wootton.

Podcast Theme Music was composed by Axel Kacoutié, with mixing and additional sound design by Peregrine Andrews.

The Associate Producer is Cristen Caine and the Executive Producer is Deborah Dudgeon.

Special thanks to:

Isabelle Szott, Lily Shallom & Said Mshana from APOPO and producer Charles Kombe for the recordings.

Science consultant Mike McHargue from Quantum Spin Studios.

Markus Buehler from MIT for providing the spider web soundscape.

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