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These Wetsuits Could Make You Invisible to Sharks

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By Chris Gayomali

Although still incredibly rare in the United States, shark attacks reached decade-high levels in 2012, according to a University of Florida study. Including data from Hawaii and Puerto Rico, 53 attacks occurred in U.S. waters, with a fatality rate of just two percent.

To be clear, you're still more likely to die from a lightning strike.

It's a different story in other parts of the world, particularly along the coast of Western Australia, where the surf is pristine and great white sharks are abundant. Although we're still a far greater threat to them than they are to us—practices like shark finning have reduced the animals to dangerously low levels around the globe—a series of high-profile incidents have painted the area as a hotbed for attacks.

For surfers, international or otherwise, the allure of a shark-repellant wetsuit has always been something of a Holy Grail, if only for the peace of mind. Scientists from the University of Western Australia, working with suit designers at Shark Attack Mitigation Systems (SAMS), have revealed two new "shark-proof" wetsuits designed to make you look less like a tasty shark-snack: One makes you "invisible" to their eyes, while the other mimics the pattern of a toxic fish the predators are known to avoid.

Sharks actually have amazing vision, despite what you may have heard. Although their visual systems are similar to those of humans, their eyes actually have stacked duplex retinas that allow them to see prey clearly even in dark, murky waters. The "invisibility suit," according to researchers, takes advantage of the "upper limits on spatial resolving power/visual acuity of the eye in pelagic sharks"—a kind of blind spot—and effectively renders the swimmer camouflaged.

The idea behind the other shark-repelling suit has actually been around for awhile. The black and white stripes of the poisonous pilotfish have long been known as a biological deterrent. In fact, the fish are known to spend most of their lives alongside sharks.

And even though your safety isn't guaranteed with either wetsuit, it sure beats anything that makes you look like a hapless seal.

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Good News, Dog Parents: You Can Teach Puppies as Well as Their Canine Moms Can
iStock
iStock

If you’ve ever adopted a puppy, you probably know how frustrating it can be to teach your new family member the basic tenets of common decency, like not to pee on the carpet or tear up a whole roll of toilet paper.

In other areas, though, pups are rather impressive learners, capable of mimicking some human behaviors. In fact, for some tasks, they learn just as effectively from watching people as they do from watching other dogs, including their own mothers, a new study in Nature revealed.

Researchers from Hungary and the UK took 48 young puppies of various breeds and studied the conditions under which they can be taught to open a puzzle box containing food. The experiment revealed that the puppies were able to learn how to open the box regardless of whether the task was first demonstrated by a person, their mother, or an unfamiliar dog. In other words, not only are puppies capable of social learning, but they're able to learn tasks from humans they don't know—in this case, the experimenter.

However, researchers were surprised to learn that the puppies were more likely to learn how to open the box by watching an unfamiliar dog than by watching their own mothers. That may be because puppies spend more time looking at—and thus, learning from—an unfamiliar dog that intrigues them. This differs from other species such as kittens, which “learn to press a lever for food more rapidly from their mother than from an unfamiliar adult,” the study notes.

In addition, the puppies were able to perform the task again after a one-hour break, indicating that they had retained some memory of the learning experience.

The ability of dogs to learn from humans has been recorded in previous research. A 2015 study revealed that dogs learn better by demonstration (or the “do as I do” method) than training techniques that involve a system of punishments and rewards. The "do as I do" approach probably isn't the most practical method of teaching your pup to do its business outside, but if you already have an adult dog at home, your new puppy can follow the older dog's lead and learn by example.

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Michael Hutchinson
Spiders Can Fly Through the Air Using the Earth's Electric Field
A spider exhibiting ballooning behavior.
A spider exhibiting ballooning behavior.
Michael Hutchinson

Every so often, otherwise Earth-bound spiders take to the air. Ballooning spiders can travel hundreds of miles through the air (and, horrifyingly, rain down on unsuspecting towns). The common explanation for this phenomenon is that the spiders surf the wind on strands of silk, but there may be other forces at work, according to a new study spotted by The Atlantic.

In the research, published in Current Biology, University of Bristol scientists argue that Earth's atmospheric electricity allows spiders to become airborne even on windless days. To test their hypothesis, the researchers exposed spiders in the lab to electric fields similar to those naturally found in the atmosphere.

When the electric field was turned on, the spiders began to exhibit behavior associated with ballooning—they "tiptoed" on the ends of their legs, raised their abdomens, and released silk. Spiders only exhibit this behavior when ballooning. And when they did become airborne, the spiders’ altitude could be controlled by turning the electric field on and off. When the electric field was on, they rose through the air, but when it was off, they drifted downward.

This provides a potential explanation for why spiders take to the skies on certain days but not others, and how they can fly in calm, windless weather— something scientists have puzzled over since the early 19th century. (Even Darwin was flummoxed, calling it "inexplicable," The Atlantic notes.) However, the researchers note that these electric fields might not be totally necessary for ballooning—wind alone might work perfectly fine on some days, too. But understanding more about when and how spiders become airborne could help us predict when there will be large masses of arachnids flying through the skies (and hide).

[h/t The Atlantic]

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