Human vs ant: Animal athletes in action

Olympic weightlifter in action and a leaf-cutter ant carrying a piece of leaf Olympic weightlifter in action and a leaf-cutter ant carrying a piece of leaf

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The London 2012 Olympic Games are in full competitive glory and world records in weightlifting, swimming and archery have been smashed. But how do the world's strongest animals, most accurate archers and champion boxers measure up?

The remarkable achievements of one athlete have earned him the accolade of the most successful Olympian in history, after winning 22 medals from three Games.

But are Michael Phelps and the other record-breaking Olympians any match for nature's best? BBC Nature has previously examined animal track and field stars, but other incredible feats have also been recorded.

Show of strength

Super-sporty animals

Rhinoceros beetle lifting a saw stag beetle
  • Heavy lifter: The rhinoceros beetle can lift 850 times their body weight
  • Crack shot: See Sir David Attenborough demonstrate the accuracy of a spitting cobra
  • Boxing clever: Watch a hare show-down between a girl and the boys
  • Wrestle mania: The awesome struggle between stags for supremacy
  • Swimming star: See why dolphins are better swimmers than we are

Watch some of nature's most spectacular record-breakers in action

Hossein Rezazadeh of Iran remains one of the greatest weightlifters of all time, lifting a mighty 263kg for a current clean and jerk world record.

But ants are also capable of some remarkable feats of strength for their diminutive size.

Remarkably, a leaf-cutter ant can carry a piece of leaf 50 times its own body weight. Could Hossein carry a medium-sized van?

Probably not.

So he would be even less happy going up against a rhinoceros beetle.

The male can lift an astonishing 850 times their body weight, or put another way, Hossein lifting eight double-decker buses.

But, the species to beat is a tiny mite that has been shown holding forces of up to 1180 times its weight and even pull 530 times its weight on a vertical surface.

These extraordinary invertebrates would get a well-deserved first place and gold medal.

On target

It takes nerves of steel and pinpoint accuracy to hit a bullseye from distance. But this was exactly what visually impaired archer Im Dong-Hyun of South Korea achieved in breaking the first world record of the Games.

However the animal kingdom has its own remarkable sharp shooters, including the archer fish.

Archer fish hit their targets using a water pistol technique

They make the equivalent of a gun barrel by pressing their tongue against a groove in their mouth and shooting out a jet of water, accurate to two metres, their bullseye being a tasty beetle.

But it is just as important to be accurate in self-defence as offence.

Cobras spit venom through their fangs when threatened.

Their precision was demonstrated by Sir David Attenborough while filming Life in Cold Blood; he would have been blinded if not for a face shield.

Rumble in the jungle

There are plenty of champion boxers and wrestlers in the animal kingdom deserving of a gold medal.

Brown hares boxing Every spring female hares fend off passionate males

Brown hares compete every spring in a "boxing" show-down between a girl and the boys; females fend off passionate males during some spectacular displays of courtship.

Another king of the ring is the kangaroo. Males lightly batter each other in contests for dominance, mates or play.

But, it is not all about power, as lightning jabs are just as important in any Olympic boxer's arsenal.

Olympic medallists such as Cassius Clay and Amir Khan would have had a fight on their hands against a peacock mantis shrimp.

These crustaceans are the fastest strikers in the animal kingdom, lashing out at 23 metres per second to shatter the hard shells of their prey.

Wrestling is another strategy to settle disputes over dominance, territories and access to mates.

Wresting champions: Male stag beetles face off over a rotten old log

Two of the animal kingdom's most spectacular displays of wrestling belong to red deer and stag beetles.

Grand antlers and branching jaws lock together during combat, with the winner of these often violent struggles gaining not gold medals, but something far more precious.

Swimming sensations

When the American swimmer Michael Phelps won his 19th medal on 31 July 2012 he became the most decorated Olympic athlete in history.

But even this great Olympian can still be out-done by water-loving animals.

Penguin swimming underwater Penguins wrap their bodies in a cloak of air bubbles to reduce drag underwater

Humans could gain speed in the water by thickening our skin, because water is 800 times thicker than air and distorts soft bodies, causing drag and slowing us down.

Dolphins have thick skin like rubber that stops their blubber flapping, allowing the water to pass smoothly over them resistance free.

Another way to gain a few precious seconds may be to wrap a human body in a cloak of air bubbles like a penguin.

The bubbles act as a lubricant and drastically reduce drag, enabling the penguin to reach lift-off speeds.

Olympics coverage online

Olympics images

Applying these bubbles to a swimsuit could help with a gold medal or Olympic record.

For long distance medal swimming, we need look no further than the polar bear.

One was observed swimming continuously for nine days, covering 687km, a remarkable achievement for an animal that spends most of its time on land.

As the greatest sporting event on the planet continues more records will be broken and gold medals won.

But despite their pursuit of sporting excellence, some Olympians may always be beaten by the world's athletic animals.

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