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Largest Fossil Spider Found in Volcanic Ash


The largest fossil spider uncovered to date once ensnared prey back in the age of dinosaurs, scientists find.

The spider, named Nephila jurassica, was discovered buried in ancient volcanic ash in Inner Mongolia, China. Tufts of hairlike fibers seen on its legs showed this 165-million-year-old arachnid to be the oldest known species of the largest web-weaving spiders alive today — the golden orb-weavers, or Nephila, which are big enough to catch birds and bats, and use silk that shines like gold in the sunlight.

The fossil was about as large as its modern relatives, with a body one inch (2.5 centimeters) wide and legs that reach up to 2.5 inches (6.3 cm) long. Golden orb-weavers nowadays are mainly tropical creatures, so the ancient environment of Nephila jurassica probably was similarly lush.

"It would have lived, like today's Nephila, in its orb web of golden silk in a clearing in a forest, or more likely at the edge of a forest close to the lake," researcher Paul Selden, director of the Paleontological Institute at the University of Kansas, told LiveScience. "There would have been volcanoes nearby producing the ash that forms the lake sediment it is entombed within."

Spiders are the most numerous predators on land today, and help keep insect numbers in check. So these findings help us "understand the evolution of the insect-spider predator-prey relationship," Selden said, suggesting that golden orb-weavers have been ensnaring insects and influencing their evolution since the Jurassic Period. [Read: Ancient Spider Guts Revealed in 3-D]

"There were many large or medium-sized flying insects around at that time on which it would have fed indiscriminately," Selden said.

In modern golden orb-weaver species, females are typically much larger than males. This new fossil was a female, suggesting this trend stretches back at least as far as the Middle Jurassic, Selden said — that is, back before the first known bird, Archaeopteryx, or giant dinosaurs such as Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus.

Although this is the largest fossil spider known to date, it is not the oldest. Two species from Coseley, England, Eocteniza silvicola and Protocteniza britannica, both come from about 310 million years ago.

Selden and his colleagues are now investigating other fossil spiders from China, "as well as those from elsewhere in the world — currently Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, Italy and Korea," he said.

The scientists detail their findings online April 20 in the journal Biology Letters.

Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.

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Baby cannibal spider gang makes web vibrate in time

BY Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News

Good vibrations (courtesy of Dr K W Kim)

It is like something out of a horror movie: baby spiders devour their own mother, then climb aboard her web, and make it throb in a series of pulsating vibrations.

But that is exactly what black-lace weaver spiderlings do, a biologist in South Korea has discovered.

After cannibalizing their mother, up to 160 spiderlings gather and contract their bodies in synchrony, collectively pulling at the web to make it vibrate.

Ultimate sacrifice

Most spiders are solitary animals.

But some are social animals, living in communal webs throughout their lives, cooperating in nest construction, brood caring and prey hunting.

Other species are subsocial, where individual spiders come together and cooperate at certain stages of their lives.

They belong to the subsocial spiders, with the young baby spiders displaying a range of intriguing behaviours.

For example, female A. ferox spiders produce a single clutch of 60-130 spiderlings, which she feeds by laying eggs for her offspring to eat.

But then she makes the ultimate sacrifice: she encourages her spiderlings onto her body, and allows them to devour her alive (see video below).

After she has died, the spiderlings then form a social group for 3-4 weeks until they disperse from the social nest.

During this time, the spiderlings are known to cooperate by going hunting together.

By cooperating on a hunt, the spiderlings are capable of attacking and subduing prey up to 20 times bigger than themselves.

Web shake

But Dr Kil Won Kim of the University of Incheon of the Republic of Korea, who has researched this cooperative hunting behaviour, has discovered that the spiderlings gang together in another bizarre, and previously unknown way.

"After matriphagy [the eating of the mother], A. ferox spiderlings show synchronous movement, contracting their bodies simultaneously," Dr Kim told the BBC.

This behaviour emerged the day after the death of the mother, and was triggered by intruding insects, mites or worms approaching the web.

Eating mother alive (courtesy of Dr K W Kim)

An individual spiderling contracted its body, pulling at the web as it did so.

Almost immediately, other spiderlings joined in, also contracting their bodies.

That created a bigger effect, which was to make the whole web throb in a series of rhythmic vibrations.

At its peak, up to 60 per cent of the spiderlings engaged in this behaviour at any one time.

The denser the group of spiderlings, the stronger the vibrations of the web, and the presence of other spiderlings nearby encouraged others to also contract their bodies.

The spiderlings also performed contractions at the highest frequency four days after eating their mother, with the behaviour declining as they aged.

It also occured during the period before the baby spiderlings were old enough to go hunting.

Scary tactic

It is unclear why the baby spiders make their web throb in this way.

"Contractions may function as antipredatory behaviour," says Dr Kim.

A few lines of evidence point to this.

The baby spiders do not do it in the presence of the mother, which likely protects them before sacrificing herself.

They also vibrate only when a large intruder is nearby, suggesting it is a defence mechanism, as the vibrations would be transmitted to any intruder touching the web.

The visible movements of the web may also give an intruder the impression that there is a much larger organism nearby, again deterring them from approaching the vulnerable baby spiders.

Few other collective defence responses have been recorded in spiders.

One other example is in the territorial social spider Cyrtophora moluccencis. When a bee or wasp flies over a female's cocoon, she will shake it vigorously, an action that prompts other females nearby to also shake their cocoons, perhaps to deter the invader.

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Oil Spill Workers vs. Black Widows and Brown Recluse Spiders


Source: http://blog.msdsonline.com

Black widow spiders, brown recluse spiders, Fire ants, poisonous plants and snake bites are the stuff of nightmares and just a few of the many hazards workers involved in the oil spill clean-up will face.

While much attention has been given to worker's exposure to hazardous chemicals, and rightly so, OSHA's list of potential dangers for oil spill workers contains many other hazards workers and employers should consider:

  • Heat Stress
  • Crude Oil
  • Snakes, Insects, and Rodents
  • Poisonous Plants
  • Drowning
  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • Slips, Trips, and Falls
  • Emergency Response and Shoreline Cleanup
  • Boat and Vessel Safety
  • Ergonomic Stresses
  • Fatigue
  • Respiratory Protection
Click here to read the entire article

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Students discover spider species


Source: WA Today

Two Year 10 students who uncovered a new species of trap-door spiders and identified a seed species that can be grown locally will travel to the United States to represent WA in a BioGENEius Challenge.

The Shenton College students, Frances Harvey and Emily Phillimore, made the major and biodiversity discoveries and will now take part in the international finals in Chicago next month against North America's best biotechnology students.

One of the projects uncovered seven new species of trap-door spiders in the Pilbara and the other identified the opportunity for an oilseed species to be grown in Australia as a health-food oil and biofuel feedstock.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Commerce, Science and Innovation Helen Morton said said the BioGENEius Challenge paired high school students with a mentor from WA's science and innovation community to complete a high-level biotechnology project.

"Each and every BioGENEius student has been given the remarkable opportunity to work one-on-one with some of the State's best researchers and scientists using some of the most advanced equipment in the world," she said.  

Ms Horton said there had been a rapid decline in Australian university enrolments in science disciplines in the last few years.

"If this continues there will be a shortage of people with the appropriate skills to enter science-related careers and this could potentially impact the research being completed now and in the future," she said.

Frances's project examined the structure and DNA of trap-door spiders to determine the number of species found on prospective mine sites in the Pilbara region while Emily's project characterised the mainly Russian and Ukrainian-derived UWA collection of the oil crop, Camelina sativa...

Click here to read the entire story

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Drinking blood makes vampire spider sexier


Category: Animal behaviour Animals Invertebrates Predators and prey Sex and reproduction Spiders

Posted on: October 27, 2009 8:30 AM, by Ed Yong
Source: http://scienceblogs.com

Even though its habitat is full of non-biting midges called "lake flies", it can tell the difference between these insects and the blood-carrying mozzies it carries. Robert Jackson from the University of Canterbury discovered this behaviour a few years ago and one of his colleagues, Fiona Cross, has now found that the blood isn't just a meal for the spiders, it's an aphrodisiac too.

Photo of E.culicivora eating a mosquito, by R. Jackson.

Cross made spiders choose between two adults of the opposite sex, by wafting their smells down a tube on different days and seeing which drew the choosy spider's attention for the longest time. The contenders had been fed on one of four diets: blood-fed female mosquitoes, sugar-fed female mosquitoes, male mosquitoes, or lake flies. 

Click here to read the entire article 

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