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Pekar, et al.

A Tiny Spider’s Secret to Taking Down Big Prey

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Pekar, et al.

At first glance, the pinhead-sized spider Zodarion cyrenaicum seems like it's on a suicide mission every time it hunts for a meal. Its preferred prey is a desert ant, Messor arenarius, some three times bigger and six times heavier than itself. But as David and the Red Viper have shown us, size isn’t everything—especially if you’ve got some slick moves and the right tools for the job. 

Wondering how the spiders consistently come out on top when battling the relatively-giant ants, Czech scientists watched some captured critters hunt in their lab. 

They found that both adult female and juvenile spiders rely on a potent venom that can immobilize an ant with just one bite. They use slightly different tactics to stay out of harm’s way until the venom does its job, though. (The adult males don’t hunt at all, and instead take a cut of the food from a female's or juvenile’s kill).

The adult female spiders attack quickly from behind, biting the ant’s abdomen or hind leg, and then retreat from any counter-attacks until the ant falls.

Following a bite, the ant stopped moving and stood still with opened mandibles,” the researchers write. “Meanwhile, the bitten limb contracted, and the gaster [the bulbous hind end of the ant body] bent under the thorax. Such a C-shaped position lasted for several minutes; then the ant collapsed, falling on one side. At this moment, the spiders approached and began to feed.”

The juvenile spiders are small enough that they can take a different approach. They actually climb onto their foe, deliver a bite to the abdomen, and then hang on to the ant’s back until it’s paralyzed so it can’t retaliate. Even at a young age, their venom is already something to be reckoned with. While the venom glands of an adult are more then 50 times bigger than a juvenile’s, the younger spider’s venom only takes a little bit longer to immobilize the prey. 

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

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Watch a School of Humpback Whales 'Fish' Using Nets Made of Bubbles 

Just like humans, humpback whales catch many fish at once by using nets—but instead of being woven from fibers, their nets are made of bubbles.

Unique to humpbacks, the behavior known as bubble-net feeding was recently captured in a dramatic drone video that was created by GoPro and spotted by Smithsonian. The footage features a school of whales swimming off Maskelyne Island in British Columbia, Canada, in pursuit of food. The whales dive down, and a large circle of bubbles forms on the water's surface. Then, the marine mammals burst into the air, like circus animals jumping through a ring, and appear to swallow their meal.

The video offers a phenomenal aerial view of the feeding whales, but it only captures part of the underwater ritual. It begins with the group's leader, who locates schools of fish and krill and homes in on them. Then, it spirals to the water's surface while expelling air from its blowhole. This action creates the bubble ring, which works like a net to contain the prey.

Another whale emits a loud "trumpeting feeding call," which may stun and frighten the fish into forming tighter schools. Then, the rest of the whales herd the fish upwards and burst forth from the water, their mouths open wide to receive the fruits of their labor.

Watch the intricate—and beautiful—feeding process below:


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