World's Oldest Spider Dies in Australia at the Age of 43—From a Wasp Sting

Courtesy of Leanda Mason
Courtesy of Leanda Mason

A tarantula that was believed to be the world's oldest spider has died at age 43. This is quite the advanced age for arachnids, which typically live five to 20 years, according to the Agence France-Presse.

Called Number 16 by the scientists who were studying her, the female trapdoor tarantula died of a wasp sting in the Australian outback.

She outlived the previous eight-legged record-holder—a tarantula in Mexico—by 15 years, according to research published in the Pacific Conservation Biology journal. Tarantulas tend to live their entire lives in the same burrow hole, making them easy to track.

A tarantula burrow hole
Courtesy of Leanda Mason

By marking the burrow where Number 16 lived, scientists have been monitoring her movements in the wild ever since she was first found in the Central Wheatbelt region of Western Australia in 1974. The study has shed light on the behavior of tarantulas, as well as their habits and habitats. It's also helping researchers better understand how factors like climate change and deforestation may impact the species.

Scientists were able to determine "that the extensive life span of the trapdoor spider is due to their life-history traits, including how they live in uncleared, native bushland, their sedentary nature, and low metabolisms," lead researcher Leanda Mason, of Curtin University, said in a statement.

Mason told The Telegraph that researchers were "really miserable" about Number 16's death. They had hoped she would make it a few more years to her 50th birthday.

More than 850 species of tarantula exist in the wild, and they're native to tropical areas and deserts throughout South America, Australia, Southern Asia, and Africa. Female tarantulas can live up to 30 years, but the lifespan of males is significantly shorter, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

[h/t AFP]

A Team of Cigarette Butt-Collecting Birds Are Keeping a French Theme Park Litter-Free

iStock
iStock

The six rooks pecking at litter within the Puy du Fou theme park in Les Epesses, France, aren't unwelcome pests: They're part of the staff. As AFP reports, the trained birds have been dispatched to clean up garbage and cigarettes butts from the park grounds.

Rooks are a member of the corvid family, a group of intelligent birds that also includes ravens and crows. At Puy du Fou, an educational amusement park with attractions inspired by various periods from French history, the rooks will flit around park, pick up any bits of litter that haven't been properly disposed of, and deliver them to a receptacle in exchange for a treat. At least that's how the system is set up to work: The full team of six rooks has only been on the job since August 13.

Employing birds as trash collectors may seem far-fetched, but the experiment has precedent. The Dutch startup Crowded Cities recently started training crows to gather cigarette butts using a vending machine-like device. Once the crows were taught to associate the rig with free peanuts, the machine was tweaked so that it only dispensed food when the crow nudged a cigarette butt resting on a ledge into the receptacle. The cigarette butts were eventually removed, and the birds figured out that they had to find the litter in the wild if they wanted to continue receiving their snacks.

Crowded Cities had planned to conduct more research on the method's effectiveness, as well as the potentially harmful effects of tobacco on crows, before bringing their vending machines to public spaces. Puy du Fou, meanwhile, has become one of the first—if not the first—businesses to fully implement the strategy on a major scale.

Even if it doesn't prove to be practical, Puy du Fou president Nicolas de Villiers told AFP that cleaning up the park is only part of the goal. He also hopes the birds will demonstrate that "nature itself can teach us to take care of the environment."

[h/t AFP]

Wasps Are Getting Drunk and Terrorizing People in England

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iStock

Go home, wasps. You’re drunk.

Thousands of “boozy wasps” are terrorizing the UK after imbibing the nectar of fermented fruit and cider left behind at pub gardens, Travel + Leisure reports. Experts warn that there’s a greater risk of getting stung at this time of year, especially while boozing outdoors or eating sweet foods.

The sudden change in diet highlights an issue with the insects' food supply: Wasps typically drink a kind of sugar-spit produced by larvae, but the hive queens have already stopped laying larvae by this time of year, and wasps have been unable to get their fill. They also carry a genetic trait that makes them go crazy for sugary foods and alcohol, and other factors have escalated the problem. For one, last year's cold winter translated to an early wasp season, which allowed them to build larger-than-normal nests.

"Wasps have built absolutely massive nests and, now that all the larvae have grown up and the queen has stopped laying eggs, the colonies have a workforce with nothing to do—and nothing to eat," pest control expert Shane Jones told the Daily Mail. "So they go down to the pub, obviously."

What they really want is sugar, which can be found in fermented fruit, cider, and fruity beers. Because wasps are lightweights, just one sip will get them drunk—and you don’t want to see them when they’re tipsy. "Wasps can't handle their booze, so they get tanked-up and fighty—like lager louts,” Jones says. Alcohol can make the insects more irritable and more likely to sting people.

The best way to avoid the problem, according to Dee Ward-Thompson, technical manager at the British Pest Control Association, is to keep the sugary goodies they're craving out of sight. “Maybe the most influential factor on wasp numbers is when people do not dispose of their waste properly, especially food with a high sugar content, such as fruit," Ward-Thompson told the Nottingham Post. “We always advise waste to be securely bagged and held within a clean container, away from where young children might play.”

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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