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Armor-Covered Spiders

Armor-Covered Spiders

Spiders are scary enough even when they don’t have any special adaptations. One species of spider called tetrablemmids has special body armor that is extremely strong and durable. These spiders have multiple layers of thick, hardened exoskeleton covering its body, including its abdomen. They may even be unsquishable!

While other spiders may have some armor, it is very rare for any to have armor on their abdomen. Scientists initially thought this tough armor was simply for protection, but new research suggests it has other uses too. Their armor is also much thicker and fused together at the seams, preventing any sharp point from making its way in and injuring them. The amount of thick exoskeleton on their body would be similar to wearing a layer of chainmail under a full suit of armor. Arachnologist at the Natural History Museum of Bern, Switzerland Christian Kropf compares them to miniature tanks. So, why all the added protection?

Tetrablemmids can be found in the forests of South East Asia, where another formidable foe lurks. Predatory wasps that feed specifically on spiders share the same living space, and they are voracious buggers. Their usual hunting technique involved swooping down to deliver a sting to the poor victim spider, which paralyzes them, allowing the wasp to then carry off the immobilized spider back to its lair. The wasp then lays an egg on the spider, and when they egg hatches it already has a hearty meal waiting for them in the form of the paralyzed spider.

The way the tetrablemmids are able to escape death by paralyzing wasp venom is that the wasps target the soft spots spiders generally have in between their plates of exoskeleton. However, since the tetrablemmids’ armor is fused together, there are no vulnerable soft spots for the wasp to attack.

But the armor is just for protection. It actually helps them conserve energy and move easier than other spiders. The plate on their abdomen is also thought to act like a bellows. The spiders can expand and squeeze it at will in order to pump fluid around their bodies. Scientists even think the armor may serve a function during sex. There are apparently quite a few advantages to having this thick exoskeleton. In fact, the tetrablemmids body has actually changed and adapted to work better with this armor, so they can benefit from its protection and the advantages it brings.

What other advantages might come with having such thick, strong body armor?

Why Are People So Afraid Of Insects And Spiders?

Why Are People So Afraid Of Insects And Spiders

According to the diagnostic manual of mental disorders, people who suffer from pathological fears of spiders and insects have what is referred to as “entomophobia.” Of course people can be afraid of creepy-crawlies without having a full-blown pathological fear of creepy bugs. It is estimated that twenty five percent of the general population actively fear spiders and insects. So what is it about bugs that makes them so scary to so many people?

One reason bugs are so scary is because many bugs actually can harm you. For example, mosquitoes cause more human deaths than any other animal. However, most people are not afraid of mosquitoes as much as, say, tarantulas. Researchers believe that humans evolved the fear of spiders, insects, and snakes in order to avoid potentially dangerous encounters with these creatures. After all, many snakes and spiders possess venom that can harm humans. Also, simply being bitten by a harmless spider can be enough to cause an infection, sometimes fatal, such as necrotizing fasciitis.

Also, people do not fear certain arthropods, such as spiders, because they pose the same sort of threats as lions and bears. We don’t think that bugs can overpower and kill us like other larger and aggressive animals. Instead our fear of bugs is closely related to the feeling of disgust. Researchers studying how disgust and fear are related use the term “rejection response” to describe the human tendency to keep something unfamiliar, and/or disgusting, far away from us. Much like how we are disgusted by feces and rotting food due to their potential to make us sick, we are also disgusted and avoid bugs for their potential to make us ill. Cockroaches, for example, are one of the most feared arthropods, and for good reason, they are disgusting. It is likely that we find cockroaches more disgusting and fear inspiring than most other bugs because cockroaches actually can spread disease due to their love of rotten food, among other reasons.

Lastly, people may fear bugs because they look so different from us. Humans and bugs do not share a close evolutionary bond, which makes many bugs appear otherworldly. In addition to their alien appearance, bugs can also scare us when we witness them operating in large swarms or colonies. The reason for this, according to some researchers, is because seeing a large amount of bugs in one place can overwhelm the human psyche and can damage the highly valued human beliefs regarding individuality. Seeing a swarm of locusts all working together can serve to undermine a person’s belief about what they can accomplish on their own. This particular theory was born out of a specific school of psychoanalysis, so this way of thinking about fear is not as common as most.

Obviously people want to stay clean and free of disease, and when we are in our homes we don’t expect intruders that may compromise our health and cleanliness. So naturally, seeing insects in your home can be quite distressing since your home is the one place where you don’t want to see potential threats to your health. In any case, bugs are here to stay, and they do much more harm than good, except for cockroaches of course.

Do you have a pathological fear of spiders and/or insects? If you do, what method, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, do you use to reduce your fear, if any?

Bill Gates May Have Developed a Way to End the Zika Virus

Bill Gates May Have Developed a Way to End the Zika Virus

For the most part news about the current situation with the spread of the Zika virus is not incredibly positive. However, Bill Gates developed some far out technology that might just be the answer to our prayers, and he is now helping countries like Brazil and Columbia use it to fight the mosquitos spreading the virus.

The method Bill Gates developed to fight mosquitos is pretty astounding, sounding more like science fiction that cold hard science. His method actually takes mosquitos from the wild and infects them with bacteria that prevents them from being able to ever spread the Zika virus to people again. They then release these infected mosquitos back out into the wild to spread the bacteria to all the other wild mosquitos. While it may seem counterintuitive to actually put more mosquitos into our environment in order to stop them from spreading the virus, it is truly genius.

The “good” mosquitos these scientists are releasing back into the wild carry the Wolbachia bacterium, which keeps the Zika virus from flourishing inside the mosquito. So far tests have shown that the bacteria spreads very fast throughout the mosquito population once these infected mosquitos are released, the entire population being infected within a few weeks and can stay infected for decades. This means that this method would wipe out the spread of this disease for many years to come after only releasing the mosquitos once. It’s kind of like a new mosquito vaccine. Gates is now giving major funding as well as his time and energy to continuing to develop this new method of Zika pest control. What’s even more exciting is that this method may also help stop mosquitos from spreading many other viruses such as dengue fever and malaria.

Would you welcome this new method of fighting against mosquitos spreading diseases such as the Zika virus? Would you be willing to release these genetically modified mosquitos into your backyard?

Why Do Some Worker Insects Occasionally Kill Their Queen?

Why Do Some Worker Insects Occasionally Kill Their Queen? Most people probably assume that worker insects cannot possibly commit matricide against their birth-giving queen leaders. Well, most people are wrong because it happens all the time. There are indeed some rare circumstances in which matricide, committed by the dead queen’s offspring, does indeed take place. But why? Researchers at the University of California at Riverside have attempted to shed more light on the phenomenon of matricide among social insects. The researchers eventually determined that worker wasps will become much more likely to kill the queen of the colony if worker wasps find themselves sharing the colony with a large amount of their siblings. However, if the worker wasps are surrounded by a mix of half and full siblings, the worker wasps will avoid killing the queen. If a wasp is surrounded by other wasps that are composed of nearly identical genetic makeup, then the behavior of the worker wasps will be more predictable and more given to collective cooperation by virtue of their similar genetically predisposed behaviors. The worker wasps are more likely to kill the queen if the worker wasps are able to sense that they have a substantial amount of egg-laying sisters present in the colony. The idea is for the sister-worker-wasps to bear the responsibility of egg laying for the colony instead of the queen. This preference on the part of the male wasp is due to the queen’s willingness to resort to destructive and violent behaviors, such as eating the eggs. Also, So, in other words, the worker-wasps will kill the queen in favor of the sister siblings laying the eggs for the colony since the eggs are safer with the sister than with the queen. Why would the queen of the wasp colony consume her own eggs, what advantage would that bring to the queen and/or the colony?

Can Spiders Hear What We Are Saying?

Can Spiders hear What We Are Saying

For decades, entomologists around the world have all agreed that spiders cannot hear sounds. But how could arthropod researchers be so sure that spiders are unable to hear? Well . . . they just looked at the spiders with a magnifying glass and did not find any ears – case closed!

This line of lazy thinking changed when a study conducted by a team of researchers noticed that spiders were able to hear people talking from meters away. Later on, a lead bug researcher from Cornell University discovered that spiders do, indeed, possess an acute sense of hearing.

However, despite a spider’s lack of ears, as well as all of the necessary components that allow an organism to register sounds, such as an eardrum, spiders are able to register sounds through tiny sensitive hairs located on their legs. Once the outside sound waves make contact with the hairs, the hairs begin to vibrate. These vibrations are translated into neural activity, so, in other words, spiders don’t just experience the sensation of vibration, rather, the spiders are hearing the sound waves, and not just feeling them.

The North American Jumping Spider served as the subject for these experiments. Now, the very same team involved with the NA Jumping Spider wants to subject wolf spiders, and fishing spiders to the very same experiment in order to see if these two popular spiders possess the same ability.

Do you think that nearly all spider species possess a medium (like the vibrating leg hairs in the case of the jumping spider) that receives information which is eventually translated into neural activity that the spider can cognize into sound?


What Engineers Can Learn From Insect Survival Methods

What Engineers Can Learn From Insect Survival Methods

The first ever study exploring the biomechanics of arthropod bone repair has been conducted. This may not sound too exciting, but scientists believe that the field of biomechanics and bioengineering can be advanced by studying the interesting way in which bugs repair their own bodies after injury.

When an insect sustains an injury, it can repair itself by laying a patch of cuticle underneath the wounded area of the insect’s body. This new cuticle functions like a bandage and it successfully strengthens the wounded area allowing the insect to continue with its day. This may sound amazing, however, we humans are able to regrow broken bones, while insects cannot. Instead insects use something like a permanent cast or splint that allows them to continue using their injured limb.

The repaired limb is not as strong as the original limb before it was injured, but the repaired limb is strong enough to not make any difference in the insect’s ability to function in the wild. For example, locusts are able to repair their limbs up to two-thirds their original strength, which is enough for the locusts to continue using their legs for jumping long distances, their primary method of evading predators. This method of bone repair in insects has engineers interested in learning more about the biomechanics behind this unique biological process. Researchers are hoping to mimic this ability through engineering.

Why would engineers be interested in learning more about the process of bone repair in insects? What sorts of things could engineers produce if they could successfully reproduce this biological process through engineering?

Where Is Zika Going Next?

Where Is Zika Going Next?

Before the summer is over there will be as many as four hundred non-travel related cases of Zika in Florida, according to an expert in biostatistics. In addition to the increased amount of Zika cases in Florida, the Zika virus will move out of Florida and into other states. According to researchers at the University of Florida, Texas, South Carolina and Oklahoma, are all states that will experience cases of non-travel related Zika.

Biostaticians, using data collected from Brazil, are able to accurately predict in which state Zika will enter, and how many cases of Zika will be reported in that state. In addition to the states mentioned above, Alabama is projected to have eleven cases of non-travel related Zika infection before Fall. Arkansas and Oklahoma were the two northernmost states that are predicted to experience an outbreak of Zika. However, it must be remembered that a year ago many of these very same biostatisticians were not even sure if the United States was going to experience any cases of Zika within its boundaries. Now, due to how aggressively it has hit the US, we may want to be weary of the projections coming from scientists.

Many researchers have relied on retrospective analysis to predict future outbreaks, but so far there has not been any researchers to use prospective cohorts. A researcher at Emerging Pathogens Institute is planning on following mothers over time in order to document the symptoms and the pregnancy outcomes of those mothers who are infected.

The researchers are working alongside the Colombia National Institute of Health, which has gathered a cohort of fifteen thousand women who knew that they were infected while pregnant and others who think that they had it. This is the biggest cohort in all of Latin America, and it will be invaluable in revealing how the date of contraction is correlated with the severity of the birth defects.

Do you think that the degree to which the USA could be harmed by the Zika virus can be predicted by analyzing data on Zika from Brazil?

Miami Beach Botanical Gardens was also recently ordered to uproot Bromeliads , which had been identified as a mosquito breeding grounds. City officials are targeting mosquito breeding grounds to curve the spread of Zika in Florida. Officials are recommending homeowners treat bromedliads with bacterial pesticides to flush out mosquito larvae. To read more on this matter visit

Amazonian Butterfly Steals Its Food As A Survival Method

Amazonian Butterfly Steals Its Food As A Survival Method

Most animals that we know of instinctively hunt for their food, but an Amazonian butterfly simply steals its food from defenseless ants. The butterfly is named Allotype annulifera, and it survives by stealing the bamboo secretions that ants forage and depend on for sustenance. Scientists regard this behavior as a bizarre phenomenon.

There is term to describe this sort of interspecies theft and it is known as “kleptoparasitism.” This particular species of butterfly represents one of the rare instances of this type of animal behavior. The species was discovered a century ago, however, very little was know about this type of butterfly until this study and a recent resurgence of interest.

Before the butterfly forms and is a caterpillar the relationship between ants and caterpillars is mutually beneficial. The ants will guard the caterpillar from predators while the caterpillar allows the ants to feed on the caterpillar’s nutritious secretions. The caterpillar will seek the protection of ants by luring them into its area with a sort of musical sound they are able to produce with an organ that causes vibrations that are inaudible to the human ear.

It is when caterpillars become butterflies that the theft begins. The butterflies will even fool ants into thinking that they are one of them with the ant-like dots visible on the butterfly’s wings. It is possible that the ants still receive some benefit from their relationship with butterflies, but if they do, scientists are unable to ascertain what that benefit is, and scientists feel safe in assuming that the butterflies are flat guilty of thievery.

Researchers in charge of the recent study that uncovered this behavior are unsure why the ants do not act in defense of their food. The ants’ tolerance for this butterflies behavior is likely due to their possible inability to process what is going on, and the ants are perhaps not even aware that their precious food is being robbed by mischievous butterflies. The ants also suffer poor eyesight, which is probably why they mistake a butterfly’s wings for one of their own kind. The researchers have not dismissed the possibility that the butterflies may release pheromone that alters the ants’ perception allowing the butterflies to operate as they please.

In what manner could a colony of ants defend their food from the larger butterfly?

Insects Are Helping Scientists Make Medical Breakthroughs

Insects Are Helping Scientists Make Medical Breakthroughs

Having a fear of creepy-crawlies is normal, in fact there may even be an evolutionary explanation for the fear that so many people show towards insects and spiders. Most people want to avoid insects at all costs whether they have a fear of them or not. However, maybe insects deserve a little more attention and respect than we want to give them as some insects are helping scientists find new treatments for devastating illnesses.

The housefly, for example, shares many of its genes with the fruit fly, and the fruit fly shares sixty percent of its genetic makeup with humans. Due to this genetic relationship, researchers can examine the genes of a housefly to better understand a human’s genetic functioning. Perhaps, by encoding fly gene sequences, researchers can learn to prevent genetic abnormalities in humans. Research has also shown that forty percent of two hundred and five different species of spider venom contained compounds that work to block pain receptors in the human body. And it is not just spider venom that has medical researchers excited. As it turns out spider silk can also be used to help victims of nerve damage. Reconstructive nerve surgery using spider silk is already a reality in animal models.

Researchers are also excited about the medical benefits that bees bring to the table. A chemical in bee venom called melittin can potentially destroy the Human Immunodeficiency. The melittin can make a whole in the double layered membrane that surrounds the Virus. Once this whole is made then toxic nanoparticles could be delivered into the viral cell, effectively killing it. In fact, researchers are already looking at bee venom as an ingredient in an anti-HIV vaginal gel. Bees could also help develop antibiotic drugs since bees produce an antimicrobial substance that can possibly eradicated staph infections, and other bacterial infections.

It may not be unfair to say that the future of medicine belongs to bugs.

Why would some types of spider venom contain pain blocking components?

What Is The Difference Between Spiders And Opiliones?

Difference Between Spiders And Opiliones

We have all heard of spiders, but what are opiliones? First of all opiliones are better known as “harvestman.” Second of all there does not exist much difference between the two types since they are both arthropods and they are both members of the arachnida animal class. Despite all of their similarities, there are indeed many differences. For example, one prominent trait that makes spiders distinct from opiliones is the spider’s ability to produce venom, which they all do, while there does not exist any species of opiliones that possess glands that are capable of producing venom.

All arachnids on earth, including opiliones, have fang-like mouths with two pedipalps and a chelicerae. However, the opiliones don’t possess actual fangs, and their jaw muscles are far too weak to break the skin of any human. The opiliones do not pose any danger at all to humans.

One other notable difference involves the manner in which these two types of arachnids consume food. The spider, as you probably know, liquefies its food in order to suck it up through their hollow fangs. The opiliones, on the other hand, literally chew their food and swallow it, much like how we humans eat our food. So if someone asks you which type of arachnid you would rather have hiding in your bathroom, you will now know which to pick, I would go for the one that cannot bite.

Since opiliones don’t have fangs like spiders do does that mean that spiders have an evolutionary advantage over opiliones?

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