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Scientists Mourn as Oldest Known Living Spider Dies at Age 43
If you were to research the age limit of trapdoor spiders, you would most likely find the general consensus amongst the scientific community to be around 20 years maximum. However, there is one trapdoor spider in Australia that blew all that knowledge to pieces when she lived far past the age of 20 and all the way into her 40s. Sadly, however, this record-breaking spider has finally passed away and is on her way to meet her maker. But, she made it all the way to the ripe old age of 43, and could have possibly lived longer had she not been stung by a wasp. Still, she broke the record for the longest observed living spider, so that is certainly an achievement to be proud of, especially coming from such a tiny creature.
The female trapdoor spider, named Number 16, was part of a long-term population study of trapdoor spiders that was started in 1974 by Barbara York Main, an Australian arachnologist. York Main tagged number 16’s burrow during her initial survey in 1974. Number 16’s burrow was tagged as the burrow of a young spiderling and the 16th burrow they had come across, hence the spider’s imaginative name. York Main managed to tag 150 burrows by 2016, but the other 15 spiders first discovered with Number 16 have all since passed, along with many other spiders tagged during the intervening years. This incredible study helped scientists discover that the long life span of trapdoor spiders has a lot to do with the traits of their life-history. A big part of this is their habitat, living in the largely untouched native bushland of Australia, their sedentary lifestyle, as well as their low metabolism.
Number 16, with her much longer than average lifespan, helped researchers learn more and investigate further this spider’s overall behavior and the dynamics of their population. Her long lifespan may actually change how these scientists even go about researching the creatures. Researchers discovered Number 16’s burrow with a puncture in it from a parasitic wasp on October 30, 2016. With the burrow having fallen into a state of disrepair, the researchers realized that Number 16 was either dead or had been infected by a spider wasp and turned into what amounts to a nurse zombie to take care of the wasps little egg until it hatches and eats poor Number 16. Thus, a sad end comes to a remarkable little spider.
How old do you think Number 16 could have lived if she hadn’t been killed by the parasitic wasp and simply died of old age?
Spiders Secret Love For Pollen
Insects aren’t the only things that get trapped in a spiders’ web. In addition to snaring insect prey, they also catch aerial plankton such as pollen. Everyone knows that spiders are purely carnivorous, eating flies, crickets, and other tasty insects by the droves. So, this extra debris must just be discarded by spiders in favor of the tasty insects also caught in their web. Right? Maybe not.
A recent study found that spiders actually might have a more diverse appetite than we previously believed. Dr. Dirk Sanders with the University of Exeter proved that spiders might not be the absolute predators that we generally believe they are. His study found that some spiders also like a bit of pollen with their insects, with pollen making up a quarter of some spider’s diets. This means that spiders aren’t carnivores, but rather omnivores. Sounds like something from an alternate universe, right?
Dr. Sanders found during his study that orb web spiders (just the common garden variety) don’t just eat pollen along with the insects they catch, but even choose to eat pollen specifically even if insects are available to munch on. The study involved Dr. Sanders and his colleague Mr. Benjamin Eggs from the University of Bern performing numerous feeding experiments on juvenile spiders to find out whether they included plant-based nutrition in their diet.
They concluded that a whole 25 percent of the nutrients they consume is pollen, leaving 75 percent that was made up of various flying insects. The combination of the two gave them all of the essential nutrients they needed, with the spiders that ate both getting optimal nourishment through this mixed diet as opposed to a purely carnivorous one. Scientists already knew that orb web spiders eat their webs when they take them down in order to recycle the silk proteins, and had suggested that it is during this process that they accidentally eat the pollen. However, this was proved to be impossible because of the large size of the grains of pollen, signifying they actively consume them. The significant part of their diet that pollen makes up (25%) also proves that it is not simply consumed by accident, but is in fact a regular part of their diet.
Apparently spiders are omnivores…who knew?
Did you think spiders were solely carnivorous? Can you think of any other seemingly-carnivorous insect predator that also consumes plant material along with their diet of other insects?
Doctor Defeats Arachnophobia By Studying Spiders Up Close
Doctor Fiona Cross used to run away from daddy long-legs screaming in fright, but decided to fight her fear rather than let it get the best of her. While she started out studying psychology, Doctor Cross ended up switching to zoology and becoming an aracnologist after deciding to join a study about Kenyan jumping spiders. She never thought she would actually be interested in a creature with such a small brain, but learned quickly that size doesn’t always matter when it comes to arachnids. “I became fascinated with the way spiders could perform tasks normally associated with larger-brained animals, such as making plans, and deceiving their prey,” she said. Cross turned what was a horrible fear into a reasonably healthy obsession (she is, after all, still studying spiders). That obsession led her twenty years later to complete her doctorate studies with an intense look into mosquito-eating jumping spiders.
Cross jumped at the chance to these study jumping spiders in Kenya in 2006, and has since then made nine trips lasting around 6 months each to Kenya to feed her obsession. One of her more important discoveries was that these mosquito-eating spiders prefer their meals to be of the kind that spread Malaria. Her mother suffered from the disease during her childhood in Africa, making it a particularly interesting find for Cross to make. She now also enjoys taking other young women spider hunting with her, and sharing her love of spiders with them. Cross found that sharing this knowledge about spiders and educating more women about this often misunderstood creature was quite liberating for all involved. “They have told me afterwards that this [spider hunting] was so liberating, because women aren’t supposed to be interested in spiders,” she said.
Now, when Cross is asked which of these Kenyan jumping spiders is her favorite she quickly points to the Portia Africana. This is one of the small jumping spiders actually discovered by Cross and a colleague of hers during their research in Kenya. She insists that they are quite cute, and look like teddy bears up close…everyone is aloud to have their own opinion after all…
Have you ever turned a fear into a strength by confronting it? Do you think this little spider looks cute or like a teddy bear, or is this a case of colored perspective?
Video of Aussies Saving Gigantic Spider From Certain Death Shocks and Befuddles the Rest of the World
Australians seem to have a soft side for arachnids that the rest of the world just can’t understand. A video showing an Australian woman saving a giant spider from getting swept away by a fierce current during a flood was posted on the web that has sparked commentary and confusion from the rest of the planet.
The community that Andrea Gofton lived in was experiencing some of the worst floods in almost a decade. Almost 20 inches has fallen just since the beginning of March. Everything is flooded, from homes and roads to whole towns being declared disaster areas. Thankfully, however, the drenched citizens have for the most part escaped the disaster unscathed.
That’s only considering the humans that live there, though. The poor animals inhabiting the area weren’t so lucky. Dens, burrows, and other animal homes were completely flooded and the animals didn’t exactly get much help from the human government, leaving many without a home. On top of that all of their food sources are buried under raging waters where water predators, including crocodiles, sharks, and snakes are starting to explore these new rivers to see what unsuspecting prey they can find.
Amidst this crazy flooding and all the chaos surrounding it Gofton came across an absolutely massive spider, literally a huge tarantula named the bird-eating spider that has huge venomous fangs, clinging desperately to a tree branch hanging over raging flood waters, trying to keep from joining the other animals that were swept away by the water. Gofton couldn’t simply leave the poor giant spider in such danger. She had to try and rescue it. This is where the viral video comes in. Gofton taped her daring rescue of the spider and posted it on the internet. You can see her first put her hand near the spider in the hopes it will jump on. When that doesn’t work she snaps off the branch the spider is clinging to and carried it to an avocado tree close by and set it free. Of course, the rest of the world has a bit of a different reaction when they see this brave act of heroism. The general response to watching it comes in the form of screaming at Gofton on the video to “kill it with fire” or some other shriek of terror.
Have you seen this video of the giant spider being saved by Gofton? What would do in that situation?
Two of the World’s Most Venomous Spiders Are Actually Cousins
Have you ever heard those stories of a boy and a girl falling in love only to later discover they are cousins, or even worse, brother and sister? Well, I don’t know how often that actually happens in real life, but in the insect world a similar situation has recently been discovered. Two of the world’s most venomous spiders have been thought to be from completely different families and only very distantly related, but new research has proven that they are actually very closely related cousins on the evolutionary line.
The two spiders in question are the Australian funnel-web spider and the eastern Australian mouse spider. The funnel-web spider is a member of the family Atracinae, Atrax robustus, and is considered by much of the world the most venomous spider on earth. Quite a number of people get bitten by funnel-web spiders every year, but due to the wide availability of antivenom, it is only the rare few that actually die from it. The mouse spider has similarly dangerous venom, but belongs to the Actinopodidae family.
Scientists previously believed that these two spiders separated from one common ancestor 200 million years ago, making them only distantly related. However, based on their anatomy as well as other characteristics, the two types of spider do resemble very closely other spider species that have also typically been thought to be distantly related to them. One group of scientists thought that there may be more to this physical similarity between spiders in the two families, Atracinae and Actinopodidae. The funnel-web and mouse spider also have very similar venom, as the same antivenom can be used to treat both bites. Some scientists began to suspect these spiders might be more closely related than they’d previously believed.
Marshal Hedin, a biologist at San Diego University, along with colleagues and some biologists in New Zealand and Argentina banded together to study these two spiders and see just how closely related they really are. After studying specimens that represented different branches of the spiders that were both closely and distantly related. After sequencing chunks of their genome to look for any genetic similarities, they found that, indeed, the spiders are much more closely related than we’d previously believed. Solving this mystery not only revealed new clues to the evolution and genetics of these spiders but also will help scientists be able to create a more general antivenom to treat bites from many different related spider species rather than just one or a few.
How else do you think this new discovery will affect the scientific world and the study of spiders specifically?
Be Thankful Spiders Haven’t Banded Together Against Humans
Humans generally think of themselves as the alpha predators of the world. We can basically kill and eat every creature on this planet and there is nothing they can do about it. Of course, this is assuming we’re dealing with them individually. What if they all banded together against us? Who would win? Could we end up becoming the prey instead of the predator? According to Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel in Switzerland and Klaus Birkhofer of Lund University in Sweden and the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg in Germany, if spiders decided to one day band together and fight back, we’d be toast. I’m guessing if you weren’t afraid of spiders before, you probably are now.
The report, which was originally published in the Washington Post, these spider experts said that the weight of all of the food consumed by the entire spider population in the world every year vastly outweighs the combined weight of all of us humans on the planet. This means that if they wanted to, spiders could easily gang up and crush us all like bugs (pun intended). Nyffeler and Birkhofer discovered that the combined spiders all over the world chow down on roughly 400 million tons of fish and meat every year. The combined weight of every adult human on earth (note this doesn’t include children and infants) comes to a mere 316.3 million tons. There is no doubt that we wouldn’t stand a chance.
What’s more is that it wouldn’t even take all of the spiders on earth to wipe out an entire country; and not one of those tiny countries like Denmark, but a mega country like Australia. Native Australian spider expert Kane Christensen said these findings were definitely accurate, and Australians would be the first ones to go. There are so many spiders in Australia that they easily outweigh the local human population. First of all there are way more spiders in the world than humans. And in terms of just their weight, not including how much they eat, they could easily crush us in terms of weight if they decided to all gang up on us. Thankfully, this is highly unlikely, as it is not in a spider’s biological nature to eat humans. So we’re safe…for now.
What would you do if spiders suddenly got together and ganged up on us humans? How would you protect yourself? Do you think they would wipe us out?
Scientists Make Spider Silk Sculptures With the Help of Lasers
We’ve all been hearing about the amazing things scientists have figured out how to make using spider silk such as fabric stronger than Kevlar, but yet another incredible use for spider silk has recently been discovered. Physicist Kamal Singh of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Mohali, India found a way to make dazzling sculptures out of spider silk using a femtosecond laser. He has created shapes such as twisted chains, coiled springs, and silk loops that any normal spider could never produce on their own. Singh and his colleagues even built a Mobius strip, which is a one-sided twisted cylinder. Not only can he make the silk into sculptures, but he has also found a way to attach the silk to other materials such as glass and metal. His hope is that this new technique could have uses other than simply being beautiful such as possibly creating new bandages for wounds or burns. His technique could literally change the world.
Singh gets his silk from the thousands of spiders that live in his garden. To procure the material he first coaxes a spider onto a stick and then gives it a quick jerk. When the spider jumps off it leaves behind a perfect line of spider silk. The next step is to use his special femtosecond laser to tailor the silk into new shapes. This laser sends out powerful pulses of light that only last a mere femtoseconds, with each femtosecond comprised of 0.000000000000001 of a second, so there are a thousand trillion of these femtoseconds in one second. With this laser he can make extremely precise cuts, as well as remove sections of silk and even attach it to other materials.
It took a great deal of experimenting to even discover the possibilities of using lasers on silk. Singh was initially studying the strength of spider silk, twisting and stretching spider silk with the aid of his students to see when it would finally break. After 10 days of constantly stretching the silk for 10 hours at a time, the silk still didn’t break, so this got Singh thinking of how one might go about cutting silk. To make the precise cuts he wanted, Singh knew he couldn’t use conventional tools like scissors, and this led him to finally get a femtosecond laser, which proved to be the perfect tool. The laser was able to deliver a powerful burst of energy onto a very small area, and the pulses were short enough that they also wouldn’t destroy the silk. From that point on history was made. The versatility of spider silk continues to amaze scientists.
What other possible uses could we have for sculpting spider silk and attaching it to other materials? What would you use it to make?
These Amazing Spiders Don’t Have to Worry About Jet Lag
Humans as a whole generally run on a daily clock of around 24 hours a day/night. The internal clocks, also known as circadian rhythms, dictate when we do our most important functions throughout that time period such as sleeping, eating, and just about anything else you can think of. This is why we experience jet lag when we go somewhere with a time zone that is hours ahead or behind ours. We lose or gain those ours, which means our bodies have to adapt to that new 24 our cycle. Scientists have thought that pretty much every organism on this planet lives based on this general 24 hour circadian rhythm. However, one spider was recently discovered to run on a completely different circadian clock, which makes them almost akin to super mutants.
Darrell Moore decided to study the circadian rhythm of the trashline orb weaver spiders after a friend, Thomas Jones, asked him to look into some strange behavior he noticed in them. What he discovered was incredible! These spiders actually run on a mere 18.5 hours a day, which is the shortest natural circadian cycle ever seen in this world. According the scientific community, these spiders shouldn’t even exist.
In order to come to this conclusion, the scientists first decided to observe the spiders’ natural daily cycle by leaving them in a completely dark room where they wouldn’t be affected by sunlight. Using beams infrared beams set to mark ever time the spiders made a move, they were able to reveal that without any external interference these spiders functioned in 18.5 hour cycles. What is even more amazing, however, is that when the spiders were exposed to light such as sunlight, they would then reset their clocks by 6 hours the next day.
Think of experiencing a six hour jetlag every day. That’s impossible for the human body to even do. The most any creature has ever been able to shift their internal clock is by an hour or two. This extra 6 hours basically gives these spiders an incredible advantage. While most spiders have to rebuild their webs for the day every morning, these trashline orb weavers are able to get an early start due to their shorter circadian rhythm. They start rebuilding their webs while it is still dark and basically get a 6 hour head start for the day…everyday. Can you imagine living with 6 extra hours every day?!
What would you do with those extra 6 hours if our circadian rhythms were that short?
It’s the time of year when spiders are on the hunt for a warm, secluded place to build a web and catch their next meal. Certified Termite & Pest warns that basements, attics and garages serve as the perfect refuge for these creepy crawlers and encourages homeowners to take proper precautions to avoid being spooked by them this fall.
With nearly 3,000 spider species found in North America, alone, it’s no surprise that homeowners occasionally encounter spiders in their abodes, especially as the colder weather forces them to seek shelter indoor. While most spiders are harmless, Texas is home to Brown Recluses, and Black Widows, which can pack a mean and venomous bite. Pest-proofing the home is key to preventing a startling encounter with these wily critters.
Certified Termite and Pest Control recommends the following spider control tips: