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Spider Webs Are Chock Full of DNA from Devoured Insects

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A spider’s web ensnares its prey for far longer than it takes the spider to down its next meal, a new study finds. Spider webs bear traces of DNA from whatever creatures have come in contact with them, according to the research led by University of Notre Dame biologists and published in PLOS ONE.

The scientists used black widow spiders from Indiana’s Potawatomi Zoo. After they built webs, the four spiders were fed crickets dropped into their webs. The researchers then took samples of the webs, and extracted DNA from them. They were able to identify the species of both spider and their prey from these web samples—even one from a spider that had died and been removed from its exhibit (along with its prey) almost 90 days before.

While the presence of little bits of spider DNA may make their webs seem a little creepier, it could be a boon for keeping track of spider and insect populations. Spiders tend to be elusive, but their webs are easier to track down, so researchers could use this genetic material to monitor spider biodiversity, even after the arachnids themselves have died or moved on from that habitat. DNA testing could also reveal information about what type of insects get caught in the webs.

However, this study tested webs housed indoors, and outdoor spider webs may deteriorate more rapidly, so the results might not be as clean-cut. 

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Courtesy of The National Aviary
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Animals
Watch This Live Stream to See Two Rare Penguin Chicks Hatch From Their Eggs
Courtesy of The National Aviary
Courtesy of The National Aviary

Bringing an African penguin chick into the world is an involved process, with both penguin parents taking turns incubating the egg. Now, over a month since they were laid, two penguin eggs at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are ready to hatch. As Gizmodo reports, the baby birds will make their grand debut live for the world to see on the zoo's website.

The live stream follows couple Sidney and Bette in their nest, waiting for their young to emerge. The first egg was laid November 7 and is expected to hatch between December 14 and 18. The second, laid November 11, should hatch between December 18 and 22.

"We are thrilled to give the public this inside view of the arrival of these rare chicks," National Aviary executive director Cheryl Tracy said in a statement. "This is an important opportunity to raise awareness of a critically endangered species that is in rapid decline in the wild, and to learn about the work that the National Aviary is doing to care for and propagate African penguins."

African penguins are endangered, with less than 25,000 pairs left in the wild today. The National Aviary, the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the U.S., works to conserve threatened populations and raise awareness of them with bird breeding programs and educational campaigns.

After Sidney and Bette's new chicks are born, they will care for them in the nest for their first three weeks of life. The two penguins are parenting pros at this point: The monogamous couple has already hatched and raised three sets of chicks together.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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