Scientists Name Just-Discovered Brazilian Cave Spider After Aragog from Harry Potter

iStock
iStock

Multiple new species, from wasps to crabs, have been named after Harry Potter characters. Now, CNET reports that Brazilian scientists have given a newly identified cave spider the name Ochyrocera aragogue, after Hagrid's enormous pet spider Aragog. Keeping with a theme of literary inspiration, the researchers also chose classic names for six additional arachnids they discovered underground in northern Brazil. They published news of their finds on January 10 in the science journal ZooKeys.

A team from Brazilian biological research center Instituto Butantan, Sao Paulo, found the cave-dwelling spiders among 2000 adult specimens collected throughout five years of field research. All seven species belong to the genus Ochyrocera and reside underground in iron caves across Pará, a state in northern Brazil. (Pará is home to Carajás Mine, one of the world's largest iron ore mines.) Scientists say the region might contain even more spiders like them, though mining activities reduce the area's biodiversity.

Unlike the elephant-sized Aragog, who readers first met in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the newly discovered arachnids are all tiny, measuring less than an inch in total size. They're also distinct from many cave-loving critters in that they aren't all pale white and aren't missing any of their six eyes. The spiders are technically able to spend their entire lives in caves, but they've also been known to crawl towards the opening and even venture outside.

In addition to Ochyrocera aragogue, researchers were inspired to name some Brazilian cave spiders after creepy-crawly figures from fantasy works like George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, and H. P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu. Monikers included Ochyrocera laracna, after the spider Laracna who attacks Frodo and Sam in LOTR; Ochyrocera varys, after GoT's Lord Varys (a.k.a. The Spider), and Ochyrocera atlachnacha, in honor of the Lovecraftian spider god Atlach-Nacha.

Ochyrocera varys, a new cave spider discovered in Brazil named after the character Lord Varys from 'Game of Thrones'
Ochyrocera varys
Igor Cizauskas

Ochyrocera atlachnacha, a new spider discovered in Brazil named after the Spider God Atlach-Nacha from H. P. Lovecraft's works.
Ochyrocera atlachnacha
Igor Cizauskas

Since not all literary spiders are spooky, the scientists also paid homage to E.B. White's Charlotte's Web and David Kirk's children's series Little Miss Spider, dubbing two other newly discovered spiders Ochyrocera charlotte and Ochyrocera misspider, respectively.

Ochyrocera misspider, a new arachnid species discovered by cave areas in Floresta Nacional de Carajás, in Brazil.
Ochyrocera misspider
Courtesy of Igor Cizauskas

This isn't the first time a spider has been named after Hagrid's pet; in 2017, scientists from the University of Tehran dubbed a new species of wolf spider discovered in southeastern Iran Lycosa aragogi.

[h/t CNET]

Periodic Table Discovered at Scotland's St Andrews University Could Be World's Oldest

Alan Aitken
Alan Aitken

The oldest surviving periodic table of elements in the world may have been found at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, according to the Scottish newspaper The Courier.

University researchers and international experts recently determined that the chart, which was rediscovered in a chemistry department storage area in 2014, dates back to 1885—just 16 years after Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev invented the method of sorting the elements into related groups and arranging them by increasing atomic weight.

Mendeleev’s original periodic table had 60 elements, while the modern version we use today contains 118 elements. The chart found at St Andrews is similar to Mendeleev’s second version of the table, created in 1871. It’s thought to be the only surviving table of its kind in Europe.

The periodic table soaks in a washing treatment
Richard Hawkes

The St Andrews table is written in German, and was presumably produced for German universities to use as a teaching aid, according to St Andrews chemistry professor David O’Hagan. The item itself was dated 1885, but St Andrews researcher M. Pilar Gil found a receipt showing that the university purchased the table from a German catalog in 1888. A St Andrews chemistry professor at the time likely ordered it because he wanted to have the latest teaching materials in the scientific field, even if they weren't written in English.

When university staffers first found the table in 2014, it was in “bad condition,” O’Hagan tells The Courier in the video below. The material was fragile and bits of it flaked off when it was handled. Conservators in the university's special collections department have since worked to preserve the document for posterity.

The 19th century table looks quite a bit different from its modern counterparts. Although Mendeleev laid the groundwork for the periodic table we know today, English physicist Henry Moseley improved it in 1913 by rearranging the elements by the number of protons they had rather than their atomic weight. Then, in the 1920s, Horace Deming created the boxy layout we now associate with periodic tables.

Learn more about the St Andrews discovery in the video below.

[h/t The Courier]

Can You Tell an Author’s Identity By Looking at Punctuation Alone? A Study Just Found Out.

iStock.com/RyersonClark
iStock.com/RyersonClark

In 2016, neuroscientist Adam J Calhoun wondered what his favorite books would look like if he removed the words and left nothing but the punctuation. The result was a stunning—and surprisingly beautiful—visual stream of commas, question marks, semicolons, em-dashes, and periods.

Recently, Calhoun’s inquiry piqued the interest of researchers in the United Kingdom, who wondered if it was possible to identify an author from his or her punctuation alone.

For decades, linguists have been able to use the quirks of written texts to pinpoint the author. The process, called stylometric analysis or stylometry, has dozens of legal and academic applications, helping researchers authenticate anonymous works of literature and even nab criminals like the Unabomber. But it usually focuses on an author's word choices and grammar or the length of his or her sentences. Until now, punctuation has been largely ignored.

But according to a recent paper led by Alexandra N. M. Darmon of the Oxford Centre for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, an author’s use of punctuation can be extremely revealing. Darmon’s team assembled nearly 15,000 documents from 651 different authors and “de-worded” each text. “Is it possible to distinguish literary genres based on their punctuation sequences?” the researchers asked. “Do the punctuation styles of authors evolve over time?”

Apparently, yes. The researchers crafted mathematical formulas that could identify individual authors with 72 percent accuracy. Their ability to detect a specific genre—from horror to philosophy to detective fiction—was accurate more than half the time, clocking in at a 65 percent success rate.

The results, published on the preprint server SocArXiv, also revealed how punctuation style has evolved. The researchers found that “the use of quotation marks and periods has increased over time (at least in our [sample]) but that the use of commas has decreased over time. Less noticeably, the use of semicolons has also decreased over time.”

You probably don’t need to develop a powerful algorithm to figure that last bit out—you just have to crack open something by Dickens.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER