As humans, we tend to think of our bodies as being less capable than many others in the animal kingdom. We can’t run as fast as most animals, nor can we track prey by scent or fly. Yet, we human beings actually have a number of physical features that are unique to us. At times, these features even enable us to out-cool our fellow animal brethren.
- Superior vision
While many other animals have color vision, many others do not. Our cats and dogs have very limited color vision compared to us. Scientists believe humans and other primates developed color vision as a means to discern ripe fruit in forest habitats. We also use the color of our faces to express ourselves to others, blushing when we’re shy and going pale with fright. It’s true that our vision is superior to many animals. After all, vision plays a large role in reading, writing, and art – forms of communication not found in any other animal – as well as deciphering intricate facial expressions.
Still, many animals have us beat when it comes to vision. Animals like reptiles and insects can see infrared and ultraviolet light.
2. Sweat and long distance running
Did you know you can outrun a horse? That’s right! Humans are one of few animals that can run continuously for long distances. This is perhaps due to our unique ability to sweat, a mechanism that lets us cool off while we run. Other animals don’t sweat or sweat differently, so although they may outrun us at the beginning of a race, they cannot maintain a constant speed.
Scientists posit that our long distance running ability may have helped our ancestors tire out prey in the savannah. However, our running prowess is no match for huskies, which can change the way they burn fat and run long distances seemingly without pain.
3. Menstrual cycle
The menstrual cycle womb-bearing humans are familiar with is strangely absent from most mammals with the exception of primates. Your dog or cat has something called an estrous cycle. When an animal is in estrous, it is referred to as being in heat. These animals will only copulate during time periods when they are in heat, and most can reabsorb their endometrium (lining of the uterus) if fertilization does not occur. Humans, on the other hand, shed their endometrium, a process those of us with periods every month are familiar with. We also don’t go into heat, allowing us to get it on all year round.
4. Dextrous hands
Many primates have opposable thumbs just like us, but humans are unique in that we can bring our thumbs all the way across our hand to touch our ring and pinky fingers. This gives us exceptional dexterity. So, while monkeys and apes can pluck fruit from trees with ease, we humans are capable of far more intricate handiwork. This has allowed us to weave cloth, write down information, and construct intricate pieces of technology.
It is no coincidence that music exists in every human civilization. From the grand orchestras of Europe to the percussive complexities of Africa, nearly everyone finds comfort, community, celebration, and more in music.
Humans are unique in that we can process melody, harmony, and rhythm simultaneously. A few animals have shown signs that they can too, but only anecdotally. We humans also use our vocal cords in unique and complex ways, singing songs and pronouncing words.
It’s no surprise that few animals walk on two legs the way we do. While two legs are slower than four, scientists believed our two-legged habit gave us unprecedented evolutionary advantages. For example, when our ancestors left the forest for the savannah, having two legs allowed them to stand up and look over tall grass. Bipedalism also allowed us to free our hands to grasp tools and carry things. It has even been posited that bipedalism helped us thermoregulate more efficiently.
Our traits allow us to adopt a unique niche
Humans may seem clumsy and slow next to, say, a graceful antelope or even a prowling housecat, but we have specialized traits that have allowed us to excel in our unique niche. With our ability to manipulate tools, communicate through complex means, and of course our brainpower, humans have successfully dominated the planet. However, we’re still far from being the most successful; earthworms, algae, and bacteria have been here a lot longer than us and take that honor. At least for now.