Popular Science

An evolutionary biologist takes on the absurd bodies of superheroes

An interview with evolutionary biologist Shane Campbell-Staton.
Superheroes the Incredible Hulk, Superman and Spider-Man.

Superheroes the Incredible Hulk, Superman and Spider-Man.


Evolutionary biologist Shane Campbell-Staton loves reading comic books almost as much as he loves studying unusual animals. Now he’s combining his twin passions in a new podcast, The Biology of Superheroes, co-hosted by fellow geek Arien Darby. The podcast uses comic book characters to explore big ideas in science and technology. Campbell-Staton recently sat down with Nexus Media to talk about his new project, his favorite superheroes and his ongoing research into the ways climate change is driving evolution. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Shane Campbell-Staton

Shane Campbell-Staton

Ben Gebo

You have a podcast where you talk about the biology of superheroes. Which superheroes?

We try to take characters from the comic book universe, not just superheroes, but also other figures of science fiction — dinosaurs, robots, giant monsters. We use them as archetypes to explore the place where fact meets fiction.

Let’s talk about Spider-Man, the subject of your first two podcasts.

Arguably, the thing that separates Peter Parker from other superheroes in the comic book universe is that he uses these webs. These webs are a huge part of his persona. And Spider-Man doesn’t produce spider silk in the way that a spider would. He has to engineer it.




So, the first question in that scenario is, “What would he use as inspiration?” Obviously, there is a huge diversity.

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