Surprise! Newfound Venomous Spider Drops in on Scientists

Most people likely wouldn’t react well to being surprised by a venomous spider, but recently, scientists at Booderee National Park, on the southern coast of Australia, were excited when a highly venomous funnel-web spider showed up unannounced.

Many species of funnel-web spiders, named for their funnel-shaped webs, are indigenous to Australia, but only one of these species, the Sydney funnel-web spider, is known to live in Booderee National Park.

Sydney funnel-webs (Atrax robustus) are ground-dwelling spiders with highly venomous bites that, before the development of an anti-venom, posed a serious medical risk to humans. Funnel-webs, including Atrax robustus, were believed to be responsible for at least 13 deaths in Australia before the anti-venom became available, in 1981. [Creepy, Crawly & Incredible: Photos of Spiders]

But the spider found along Australia’s southern coast by scientists from the Australian National University (ANU) wasn’t Atrax robustus. In fact, it might be a brand-new species of funnel-web spider, said Thomas Wallenius, a biologist at ANU’s Research School of Biology and one of the scientists who uncovered the arachnid.

“It’s remarkable that we have found this other species in Booderee National Park. It shows we still have a lot to learn about what’s out there in the bush,” Wallenius

Starving Polar Bear Photo Don’t Blame Just Climate Change

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Polar bears have become the fuzzy face of the impacts of climate change, with shrinking sea ice in the Arctic affecting how the bears normally roam and hunt. Now, after a photograph of an emaciated polar bear hobbling on ice went viral online, some people are wondering if global warming is causing these majestic creatures to starve.

Wildlife photographer Kerstin Langenberger snapped the now-famous photo of the gaunt polar bear and wrote a concerned Facebook post questioning the health of polar bear populations. Though it was widely circulated online, the photograph is misleading, said Karyn Rode, a wildlife biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage, Alaska.

“I think you are always going to have animals in any population [that are] in poor conditions,” Rode said. This can be because they have an injury (as may be the case with the polar bear in the photo) or because the animal is old and has lost some of its canines, she said. [In Images: Polar Bears’ Shifting Diet]

Steven Amstrup, chief scientist at Polar Bears International, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to studying polar bears, agreed and added

Bird Mummy’s Secret Why Raptor Was Force-Fed by Ancient Egyptians

Mummification wasn’t reserved for people in Egypt. The archaeological record is full of examples of cats, dogs, crocodiles and birds that were mummified and used as religious offerings to their corresponding animal gods, a practice that was popular from about 600 B.C. until around A.D. 250, well into the Roman period. Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, has made a living studying these animal mummies, and for her latest research, she examined the ancient remains of a European kestrel from the Iziko Museums of South Africa in Cape Town. [See Photos of Dog Mummies in Ancient Egyptian Catacomb

An X-ray revealed a mouse tail extending from the ancient bird’s stomach up through its esophagus.

Credit: Stellenbosch University, via Salima Ikram

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New imaging technologies have made it possible to see through mummies without butchering ancient corpses: Ikram and her colleagues used an X-ray computed tomography scanner at Stellenbosch University in South Africa to see the insides of the kestrel in 3D. The images revealed the bird’s stomach was stuffed with bones and teeth from at least two mice —one with its tail inside the raptor’s esophagus —and a partially digested sparrow.

The kestrel’s skeleton showed

Teenager infected with rat-bite fever from her pet rodent

A 17-year-old woman was infected with the rare, but treatable rat-bite fever, that developed from pet rodents that lived in her bedroom, report the doctors who treated her in the online journal BMJ Case Reports.

Rat-bite fever has been reported in writings dating as far back as 2300 years. It was originally described as a disease of the poor, but these days most cases occur in lab workers or in children with pet rodents.

The condition is often goes unrecognised and undiagnosed. Only 200 cases of rat-bite fever have been recorded in the USA since 1839.

Most cases of rat-bite fever involve a bite or scratch from a rodent, but there are several reports of infection without direct bacterial inoculation.

The young woman was admitted to hospital with pain in her right hip and lower back that had continued for two days and led to immobility. Over the proceeding two weeks, she had an intermittent fever, nausea and vomiting, and a pink rash on her hands and feet.

Her nausea and vomiting improved, but the fever continued, and she had tenderness of a joint in her pelvis, and pain in her right leg.

The doctors learnt that the woman had numerous pets including

How You Can Help Fight Animal Cruelty

Animal cruelty is something that is close to many people’s hearts. Many think of it as an abuse that is akin to child abuse, since animals are also defenseless against the hands or neglect of humans.

It tends to rouse similar anger and outrage as well, and there are now many agencies that are set up to help prevent animal cruelty, and also shelters where rescued animals find solace and comfort from their abusive or neglectful environments.

Years ago, there were not even any laws set up to protect animals from abuse, and abusers were able to get away with doing just about anything they wanted without consequence.

Now, there are animal protection laws set up in almost every state, and if you are found guilty of inhumane treatment of an animal, you are subject to anything from fines to community service, to jail time.

While we’ve come a long way in legislating animal protection laws, there is still room for improvement, as they are not stiff enough penalties in most people’s eyes, and it seems that it’s still taken rather lightly.

While I’m not aligned with the extreme mentality of animal rights groups that preach vegetarianism and use tactics that I don’t deem appropriate

Sorry Cat Lovers Felix Doesn’t Need You

Dogs have owners, cats have staff.

Though the old joke is a stereotype of a feline’s independent nature, that trope may have some scientific backing.

Cats do not form the childlike dependence on humans that dogs do, new research suggests.

That doesn’t mean people’s feline friends don’t bond with them, said Daniel Mills, a veterinary behavioral medicine researcher at the University of Lincoln in England.

“This is not about whether cats love their owners,” Mills told Live Science. Rather, it just means that Felis catus doesn’t look to its human owners as a source of safety and security, he added. [Here, Kitty, Kitty: 10 Facts for Cat Lovers]

Strange situation

The new results are based on a test called the “Strange Situation.” In the test, which was developed for humans by psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1970s, researchers put a mother or primary caregiver and a baby in one room together and then asked the mother to leave as a stranger walked in to play. Ainsworth found that some tots would play joyfully while their caregiver was around, act fearful or distressed when the caregivers left, and then act happy when the mother figure returned. Those little ones were “securely attached,” Ainsworth said, meaning they saw

Why Animal Genitals Are Important to Science

Did you know that male black widow spiders have corkscrew-shaped genitals? Or that barnacle penises are up to eight times the length of barnacle bodies? Or that echidnas have frankly horrifying four-headed dangly bits?

If you’ve been following scientists on Twitter in the past week or so, you probably do. That’s because biologists have gone wild posting junk shots of their research subjects, from meerkats to cheetahs to some truly bizarre ants. The #JunkOff hashtag took off last week, and not entirely for sophomoric reasons: Animal genitalia are actually a major window into how evolution works.

“It all goes back to the basis of animal behavior and evolution,” said Anne Hilborn, a doctoral student at Virginia Tech and cheetah researcher who launched #JunkOff and helped start the warmer-and-fuzzier follow-up hashtag, #CuteOff.

Wild junk

As #JunkOff illustrates, the world of genitals is … diverse. And maybe a little scary. But really, let’s focus on the diversity. [The 9 Weirdest Animal Penises]

Alligators, for example, have enormous, permanently erect penises made of connective tissue called collagen. Instead of inflating with blood like most mammalian penises, the alligator penis pops out of the cloaca (the alligator all-purpose genital and waste opening) with the help of rubber-bandlike tendons and

Iguana Relative Shows How Lizards Spread Worldwide

An 80-million-year-old lizard discovered in southern Brazil has provided a surprising clue about how these reptiles evolved, and where they once lived, according to a new study.

Until now, researchers had found acrodontans only in the Old World, including Africa and Asia. (This is a type of lizard is called an iguanian that has teeth fused to the top of its jaws, a group that includes chameleons and bearded dragons.) But the newfound fossil, a partial lower jaw of a new species of acrodontan, shows that they lived in the New World much earlier than thought.

The fossil suggests that acrodontans managed to distribute themselves worldwide before the ancient supercontinent Pangaea broke up about 200 million years ago, the researchers said. [Image Gallery: 25 Amazing Ancient Beasts]

“This fossil is an 80-million-year-old specimen of an acrodontan in the New World,” study co-author Michael Caldwell, a biological sciences professor at the University of Alberta in Canada, said in a statement. “It’s a missing link in the sense of the paleobiogeography and possibly the origins of the group, so it’s pretty good evidence to suggest that back in the lower part of the Cretaceous, the southern part of Pangaea was still a kind of single

The Science of Adorable What It Takes to Win CuteOff

Science Twitter has gone full squee. Biologists are tweeting pictures of their adorable research subjects in a #CuteOff, and the results are downright nom-able.

Baby elephants? Adorbs. Pert-nosed pikas? Too cute. Hummingbird nestlings? Heart-stopping. Meanwhile, #TeamHerpetology is making a strong showing with shots of baby sea turtles that fit in the palm of a hand, and #TeamEntomology is showing how sweet bugs can be.

“I don’t generally think of fish as cute, but there were some alarmingly cute fish,” said Anne Hilborn, a doctoral student and cheetah researcher at Virginia Tech who helped launch the hashtag.

While the #CuteOff may open eyes to wildlife conservation, it’s also an opportunity to look at what really makes people squee. What are the essential ingredients of cute? Based on the types of animals posted — and previous scientific research on adorableness — here are seven features that could help an animal win a cuteness contest. (This #CuteOff emerged on Twitter following a perhaps, ahem, more salacious animal contest, the #JunkOff.)

1. Big Eyes

Big eyes, full heart, can’t lose. It’s pretty clear that a wide pair of peepers pushes an animal high in the cuteness ratings. Whether it’s a puffer fish or a pygmy possum, many of the

Animal scientists identify mutations that led to pigs that lack immune systems

Animal science researchers at Iowa State University have identified a pair of genetic mutations that cause immune deficiencies in pigs that make them uniquely good models for testing potential medical therapies for people.

The discovery of the mutations will pave the way for researchers to further develop a genetic line of pigs with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) at Iowa State and to improve husbandry and management practices for the pigs.

Christopher Tuggle, an animal science professor, said pigs born with SCID make ideal models for studying vaccines, potential cancer treatments and stem cell therapies for human medicine. That’s because their deficient immune systems can’t reject cells introduced experimentally.

“The pig is known to be an excellent model for human biology due to its similar size, physiology and genetic make-up,” Tuggle said. “This shows it has high potential as a model for many areas of testing in regenerative medicine, a new medical specialty that repairs disease instead of treating symptoms.”

Tuggle was part of a research team that published findings recently in the Journal of Immunology, a peer-reviewed academic publication, identifying two genetic mutations in pigs that lead to offspring with SCID. The editors of the journal highlighted the publication for its