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iStock

Spiders Tune the Strings of Their Webs

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iStock

Spider silk is remarkable: The material boasts some of the highest tensile strength found in nature. It’s also capable of transmitting vibrations like the strings of a guitar. According to new research, spiders have adapted to tune these strings like tiny, eight-legged musicians, Gizmodo reports.

The study, recently published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, examined the webs of the garden cross spider (Araneus diadematus) to see what makes them such great natural instruments. Certain frequencies can tell a spider a lot: They might signal prey, potential mates, or structural issues with the web.

Measurements of web vibrations taken with lasers revealed that web tension, silk stiffness, and the shape and structure of the web all impact its data transmitting capacities. The research also showed that spiders can alter each of these qualities. When a spider modifies the threads of its webs, tweaking things like tension and stiffness, it’s doing more than building a sound trap. It’s tuning the web to transmit frequencies it recognizes.

The researchers suggest that a spider’s dragline silk—the silk used to weave the spokes and outer rim of a web—may have evolved so spiders can adjust it for this reason.

“Spiders, unlike most other animals are able to shape their immediate environment through making their own materials for integration into highly adapted structures,” the study authors write. “Spider behaviour and silk properties are variable but tunable, perhaps allowing spiders to shape their extended phenotype for multifunctional outcomes.”

A spider’s ability to spin finely tuned webs makes up for an area where it's sorely lacking. Despite sporting eight eyes, spiders have awful vision. Tuning and plucking their webs allows them to detect prey they might not have been able to spot otherwise.

[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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