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LostInParadise's avatar

How can animals be so strong without having bulging muscles?

Asked by LostInParadise (25477points) February 27th, 2011

A chimpanzee with its slender arms and at about half the weight of a human is estimated to be 5 to 7 times stronger Where does the strength come from?

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13 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

As a matter of fact, it is humans who are unusually weak.
That is because the human brain prevents them from using full strength, in exchange for fine motor skills.

Zaku's avatar

Animals tend to be much more body-oriented than humans, and they specialize and use their bodies regularly. Strength isn’t all about muscle size. What’s there (including skeleton) and what it does in response to nervous system control generates strength. Also, with enough adrenaline, a human can lift a car that they would never find themselves able to lift while calmly living in their heads.

marinelife's avatar

They have actual working muscles not bulges produced by machines.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Bulging muscles don’t necessarily mean strength. Take a look at boxers. Some of the hardest punchers over the years had smooth muscles, not bulging.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Hunter-gatherers have been recorded many times doing things that pushed the limits of what science thought was possible for humans. A big part of it is bad diet and shitty lifestyles we non-hunter-gatherers have.

PhiNotPi's avatar

Humans actually only use a small amount of their muscle mass. We can actually be much stronger, but evolution has made a trade-off, so we use less of our muscle to acheive better motor skills, which are key when making tools, weapons, and other things that are the reason we survived. People only ever use all of their muscles in life or death situations.

LostInParadise's avatar

Interesting. What you are saying is that a person cannot consciously make maximal use of muscle strength. If, for example, I want to move a heavy piece of furniture, it is not possible for me to consciously sacrifice motor control to acquire the necessary strength to move it. Unfortunately, there is no ethical way of experimentally creating an emergency situation and doing a brain scan to see what happens that allows for maximal muscle use.

Zaku's avatar

You probably could develop skills to improve your performance through induced brain states. Some martial arts do this (“Focus your Chi energy…”) and can have people chopping through bricks and beams with their bare hands and feet, which most untrained people don’t think they can do and would never try, and/or would fail or hurt themselves. See also walking on hot coals without getting burned, sword swallowing… though not strength applications, have to do with mental control over the body that defies a simple mechanistic understanding.

ThaiBigBri's avatar

Animals, unlike humans, are constantly fending for their survival. To eat, an animal must hunt…this takes not only energy, but skill and strength. In order for you to eat, you walk to the fridge, taking far less skill, strength, and energy. To avoid being eaten, an animal must be fast, the fastest being those that survive the longest. When they mate, those genes get passed on, creating faster and faster animals. Of course, there are physical limitations to this, but basically over the millenia evolution and survival of the fittest has allowed only the strongest, fastest animals to survive. Humans, however, no longer evolve and don’t breed for things like speed or strength (in general), so there’s no reason why we would have developed these traits.

ragingloli's avatar

“survival of the fittest has allowed only the strongest, fastest animals to survive.”

That is not true. Survival of the fittest does not mean “the strongest or fastest survive” but those who are most adapted to their environment (the actual goal being producing offspring). That often involves just finding a niche that is not yet occupied.
Take spiders for example. They are neither strong or fast. They make their web and then wait for their prey.
Ants and bees work in a collective.
Many snakes use poison.
Finches on Galapagos just have bigger beaks to open the nuts they eat.
Humans have a specialised brain.

“Humans, however, no longer evolve
They do. It is not immediately apparent and we do not know where it will take us, but we do still evolve. Every living being on this planet and elsewhere still evolves.
The environmental factors influencing our evolution just have changed.

“To eat, an animal must hunt”
Only predators must hunt, and then not even all of them.
Spiders lay traps, some ants are keeping lice that produce food for them.

“When they mate, those genes get passed on, creating faster and faster animals.”
Only a few mutations result in advantageous traits like increased speed, most often it does nothing.
And only if this trait helps the individual in its competion against others will it be passed on.

ThaiBigBri's avatar

Hmmm…ragingloli, you’ve really decided to take me to action. In its most literal sense, “survival of the fittest” does not necessarily mean the strogest or the fastest. The answer to the question at hand, however, what something about strength. The “fittest” could describe any number of traits, be it quickness or strength of web for a spider or whatever traits would benefit any specific individual over others. The monkeys, chimpanzees, gorillas, spiders, dolphins, sea urchins, and flounder that exist today would most definitely carry the highest percentage of “successful” genes and traits as those would be the ones most likely to be passed down from generation to generation. The genes that “help” necessarily survive, whilst those that don’t lie either dormant or are passed out of the genome. For example, we humans no longer carry a prehensile tail (or a tail of any other kind, although there are those that will argue the end of a vestgial tail still rests in our spine). Yes, indeed, only a few mutations result in advantageous traits…but they make all the differenece in the world!

I **fiercely** debate the evolution of humans. We do NOT evolve any longer, nor have we for hundreds of years. Evolution occurs as an evironmental response, favouring those creatures that can manage and thrive in the environmental conditions that are given. Humans, however, **CREATE** their environment, and therefore do not change to adapt to it. We’re taller than we were 200 years ago…but that’s not an environmental change, it’s a change based on the availability of resources…

ragingloli, I’d like to take this to a more intimate forum, if you’re willing….I think I’ve not only answered the original question posed effectively, but also rebutted the majority of your argument. I don’t think anything else you and I could say to each other would fit in this forum or aid in the answering of the original question, which I believe is the point of this, eh?

Lemme know:

incendiary_dan's avatar

@ragingloli & @ThaiBigBri Are either of you familiar with the survival of the kindest idea? It’s what makes the most sense to me given my experience in studying human development and hunter-gatherer societies.

ThaiBigBri's avatar

@incendiary_dan Yes, as a matter of fact, I am. The Dalai Lama (current) said this in a book, that it is kindess and love instead of hate and war that have won in humanity over the course of our existence (this is paraphrased and butchered, I don’t have the source). This was in response to a question about man’s propensity to wage conflict over peace, and I think he pretty much nailed it. Let’s face it, the reason both you, I, and everyone else is here is because our mothers and fathers were compassionate enough to not only let us live but support our growth. “Survival of the kindest” works with humans, but not animals. Like your direction of thought, Dan!

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