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Spider Webs Are Chock Full of DNA from Devoured Insects

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iStock

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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Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
How a Hairdresser Found a Way to Fight Oil Spills With Hair Clippings
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker made global news in 1989 when it dumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the waters off Alaska's coast. As experts were figuring out the best ways to handle the ecological disaster, a hairdresser from Alabama named Phil McCroy was tinkering with ideas of his own. His solution, a stocking stuffed with hair clippings, was an early version of a clean-up method that's used at real oil spill sites today, according to Vox.

Hair booms are sock-like tubes stuffed with recycled hair, fur, and wool clippings. Hair naturally soaks up oil; most of the time it's sebum, an oil secreted from our sebaceous glands, but it will attract crude oil as well. When hair booms are dragged through waters slicked with oil, they sop up all of that pollution in a way that's gentle on the environment.

The same properties that make hair a great clean-up tool at spills are also what make animals vulnerable. Marine life that depends on clean fur to stay warm can die if their coats are stained with oil that's hard to wash off. Footage of an otter covered in oil was actually what inspired Phil McCroy to come up with his hair-based invention.

Check out the full story from Vox in the video below.

[h/t Vox]

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Bristly
A New Chew Toy Will Help Your Dog Brush Its Own Teeth
Bristly
Bristly

Few pet owners are willing to sit down and brush their pet's teeth on a regular basis. (Most of us can barely convince ourselves to floss our own teeth, after all.) Even fewer pets are willing to sit calmly and let it happen. But pet dental care matters: I’ve personally spent more than $1000 in the last few years dealing with the fact that my cat’s teeth are rotting out of her head.

For dog owners struggling to brush poor Fido’s teeth, there’s a slightly better option. Bristly, a product currently being funded on Kickstarter, is a chew toy that acts as a toothbrush. The rubber stick, which can be slathered with doggie toothpaste, is outfitted with bristles that brush your dog’s teeth as it plays.

A French bulldog chews on a Bristly toy.
Bristly

Designed so your dog can use it without you lifting a finger, it’s shaped like a little pogo stick, with a flattened base that allows dogs to stabilize it with their paws as they hack at the bristled stick with their teeth. The bristles are coated in a meat flavoring to encourage dogs to chew.

An estimated 80 percent of dogs over the age of 3 have some kind of dental disease, so the chances that your dog could use some extra dental attention is very high. In addition to staving off expensive vet bills, brushing your dog's teeth can improve their smelly breath.

Bristly comes in three sizes as well as in a heavy-duty version made for dogs who are prone to ripping through anything they can get their jaws around. A Bristly stick costs $29 and is scheduled to start shipping in October. Get it here.

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