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The Nightmare Is Real: It's Raining Spiders in Australia

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Nephila edulis by dilettantiquity, Flickr // CC BY SA 2.0

Arachnophobes, grab an umbrella. In one Australian town, it’s been raining spiders.

Let that sink in: Spiders. Falling. From. The. Sky.

The phenomenon, while inspiring for any would-be sci-fi horror writers out there, is a fairly routine part of spider migration that has been observed by scientists since Darwin’s time. In Goulburn, Australia, 120 miles from Sydney, residents recently described seeingthis tunnel of webs going up for a couple of hundred meters into the sky.” The town was transformed into one big web-covered haunted house as black baby spiders fell from the air like snow.  

To migrate, spiders send out silk threads that catch the wind and lift them aloft. They don’t have any control over where they go, but can travel hundreds of miles, even landing on islands in the middle of the ocean (which might be why the eight-legged creatures can be found all over the world). A 2013 study by a University of Hawaii physicist postulated that the spiders may also harness the Earth’s electrostatic forces to fly even when there isn’t wind. 

Check out what a sky full of spiders looks like in this (admittedly shaky) video:

And here’s a close up of how a spider gets airborne:

Ballooning is typically a seasonal behavior seen among small, young spiders, but on rare occasions larger adult spiders also cast out their silk and take off [PDF]. Such migrations are common in southeastern Australia, and have also been seen in recent years in Texas and Brazil. Nowhere in the world is safe from spider rain. 

[h/t: Treehugger]

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Animals
Pigeons Are Secretly Brilliant Birds That Understand Space and Time, Study Finds
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Of all the birds in the world, the pigeon draws the most ire. Despite their reputation as brainless “rats with wings,” though, they’re actually pretty brilliant (and beautiful) animals. A new study adds more evidence that the family of birds known as pigeons are some of the smartest birds around, as Quartz alerts us.

In addition to being able to distinguish English vocabulary from nonsense words, spot cancer, and tell a Monet from a Picasso, pigeons can understand abstract concepts like space and time, according to the new study published in Current Biology. Their brains just do it in a slightly different way than humans’ do.

Researchers at the University of Iowa set up an experiment where they showed pigeons a computer screen featuring a static horizontal line. The birds were supposed to evaluate the length of the line (either 6 centimeters or 24 centimeters) or the amount of time they saw it (either 2 or 8 seconds). The birds perceived "the longer lines to have longer duration, and lines longer in duration to also be longer in length," according to a press release. This suggests that the concepts are processed in the same region of the brain—as they are in the brains of humans and other primates.

But that abstract thinking doesn’t occur in the same way in bird brains as it does in ours. In humans, perceiving space and time is linked to a region of the brain called the parietal cortex, which the pigeon brains lack entirely. So their brains have to have some other way of processing the concepts.

The study didn’t determine how, exactly, pigeons achieve this cognitive feat, but it’s clear that some other aspect of the central nervous system must be controlling it. That also opens up the possibility that other non-mammal animals can perceive space and time, too, expanding how we think of other animals’ cognitive capabilities.

[h/t Quartz]

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The Queen's Racing Pigeons Are in Danger, Due to an Increase in Peregrine Falcons
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Queen Elizabeth is famous for her love of corgis and horses, but her pet pigeons don't get as much press. The monarch owns nearly 200 racing pigeons, which she houses in a luxury loft at her country estate, Sandringham House, in Norfolk, England. But thanks to a recent boom in the region’s peregrine falcon population, the Queen’s swift birds may no longer be able to safely soar around the countryside, according to The Telegraph.

Once endangered, recent conservation efforts have boosted the peregrine falcon’s numbers. In certain parts of England, like Norfolk and the city of Salisbury in Wiltshire, the creatures can even find shelter inside boxes installed at local churches and cathedrals, which are designed to protect potential eggs.

There’s just one problem: Peregrine falcons are birds of prey, and local pigeon racers claim these nesting nooks are located along racing routes. Due to this unfortunate coincidence, some pigeons are failing to return to their owners.

Pigeon racing enthusiasts are upset, but Richard Salt of Salisbury Cathedral says it's simply a case of nature taking its course. "It's all just part of the natural process,” Salt told The Telegraph. "The peregrines came here on their own account—we didn't put a sign out saying 'room for peregrines to let.' Obviously we feel quite sorry for the pigeons, but the peregrines would be there anyway."

In the meantime, the Queen might want to keep a close eye on her birds (or hire someone who will), or consider taking advantage of Sandringham House's vast open spaces for a little indoor fly-time.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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