Scientists Catch Tiny Jumping Spiders Eating Frogs and Lizards

Tom Houslay, Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-NC 2.0
Tom Houslay, Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-NC 2.0

Small, but mighty: Some jumping spiders can overpower and devour their larger, cold-blooded, would-be predators, according to scientists writing in the Journal of Arachnology.

Biologist Martin Nyffeler at the University of Basel in Switzerland spends his days studying arachnid and insect eating habits. Over the last few years, he and his colleagues have made some astounding discoveries. For one, not only do spiders consume millions of tons of bugs each year, but they also eat fish, and bats, and plants. With a palate this broad, a hunger this big, and a ferocity to match, why wouldn't little spiders occasionally order off the reptile and amphibian menu? The researchers decided to search the scientific literature for reports of spider-on-frog-or-lizard action.

They found plenty. Their search unearthed one sighting in Costa Rica and eight separate instances in seven different Florida counties, all initiated by a single species. The regal jumping spider may weigh less than one-tenth of an ounce, but that apparently doesn't stop it from going after frogs and small lizards called anoles.

One report came from local nature blogger Loret Setters, who watched a Cuban tree frog disappear into a regal jumping spider's mouth.

"He was staring me down, like, 'You're next!'" Setters told National Geographic. "I was completely shocked."

A small jumping spider eats a dead frog.
A female regal jumping spider goes to town on a Cuban frog.

This remarkable reversal of the predator-prey relationship is made possible by jumping spiders' specialized hunting skills. Unlike most spiders, which spin webs and then lie in wait, jumping spiders stalk their prey like tigers. They have incredibly good vision and decent hearing, and they're all venomous.

Behavioral ecologist Thomas C. Jones of East Tennessee State University was not involved with the study but says spiders likely only go after frogs and lizards when easier meals are scarce.

"They do tend to get bolder as they get hungrier," he said.

[h/t National Geographic News]

Fossilized Fat Shows 550-Million-Year-Old Sea Creature May Have Been the World's First Animal

Ilya Bobrovskiy, the Australian National University
Ilya Bobrovskiy, the Australian National University

A bizarre sea creature whose fossils look like a cross between a leaf and a fingerprint may be Earth's oldest known animal, dating back 558 million years.

As New Scientist reports, researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) made a fortunate find in a remote region of Russia: a Dickinsonia fossil with fat molecules still attached. These odd, oval-shaped creatures were soft-bodied, had rib structures running down their sides, and grew about 4.5 feet long. They were as “strange as life on another planet,” researchers wrote in the abstract of a new paper published in the journal Science.

Another variety of fossil
Ilya Bobrovskiy, the Australian National University

Although Dickinsonia fossils were first discovered in South Australia in 1946, researchers lacked the organic matter needed to classify this creature. "Scientists have been fighting for more than 75 years over what Dickinsonia and other bizarre fossils of the Edicaran biota were: giant single-celled amoeba, lichen, failed experiments of evolution, or the earliest animals on Earth,” senior author Jochen Brocks, an associate professor at ANU, said in a statement.

With the discovery of cholesterol molecules—which are found in almost all animals, but not in other organisms like bacteria and amoebas—scientists can say that Dickinsonia were animals. The creatures swam the seas during the Ediacaran Period, 635 million to 542 million years ago. More complex organisms like mollusks, worms, and sponges didn’t emerge until 20 million years later.

The fossil with fat molecules was found on cliffs near the White Sea in an area of northwest Russia that was so remote that researchers had to take a helicopter to get there. Collecting the samples was a death-defying feat, too.

“I had to hang over the edge of a cliff on ropes and dig out huge blocks of sandstone, throw them down, wash the sandstone, and repeat this process until I found the fossils I was after,” lead author Ilya Bobrovskiy of ANU said. Considering that this find could change our understanding of Earth’s earliest life forms, it seems the risk was worth it.

[h/t New Scientist]

Cats Take Turns Napping With the 75-Year-Old Star Volunteer at This Animal Shelter

iStock
iStock

The star volunteer at Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary in Wisconsin doesn't have to do much to make a cat's day. According to Huffington Post, Terry Lauerman, a 75-year-old from Green Bay, visits his local shelter every day to take a cat nap with the residents.

Safe Haven is a cage-free, no-kill animal shelter that gives a home to special needs cats at risk of being put down. When Lauerman first showed up at Safe Haven earlier this year, he didn't talk to the shelter employees about becoming a volunteer—instead, he waltzed in and started grooming the cats with a brush he had brought himself. After this continued for a while, the shelter decided to make his volunteer status official.

Lauerman has since settled into a daily routine. After brushing the cats, he tends to fall asleep with them, and after an hour or so he wakes up and finds a different cat to nod off with. Safe Haven recently shared his story on their Facebook page: "We are so lucky to have a human like Terry," the post reads. "He brushes all of the cats, and can tell you about all of their likes and dislikes. He also accidentally falls asleep most days. We don't mind—Cats need this!"

The post has since been liked by over 68,000 people and shared more than 18,000 times. Safe Haven wrote in the comments, "When Terry comes in today, I'm going to have to tell him that he's famous. I can almost guarantee he'll just laugh and say "Oh, really?"...shake his head...and then go back to brushing cats." Lauerman is also encouraging fans of the viral post to show their appreciation by donating to the shelter, which ends up with more medical bills than many shelters that don't have cats with disabilities. You can contribute cash here or make a donation through the shelter's Amazon wish list.

[h/t Huffington Post]

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