Creepy crawlies, in the form of a venomous spider infestation, has forced a school in Britain to close a week before Halloween.
The Dean Academy, a secondary school in southwest England’s Gloucestershire, said it was closing Wednesday to get rid of the false widow spiders. The spiders are commonly mistaken for their relative, the black widow spider, whose bite can be fatal.
The school said no one has been bitten by the spider but local health authorities have advised it to close for the day to deal with the infestation.
Experts say the Steodata nobilis, a species of the false widow, are becoming more common in the U.K. and are the most dangerous of the 12 species of biting spiders known in Britain.
But they stress that spider bites are rare in Britain, and in most cases the symptoms are mild. The spider’s bite may sting, swell up or cause discomfort like a wasp sting, but has not been known to cause deaths.
“They’re not aggressive spiders, they don’t seek out humans,” said David Lalloo, a professor at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
“Most people won’t get much of a reaction. Some people may feel a bit unwell for a day or two, but that’s very rare,” he said.
Reported by the Associated Press from LONDON.Read More
Oh, the glories of Rio that await spectators and athletes at the 2016 Olympics: Those beaches, that music, the dramatic mountains. And then there are a few thousand alligator-like creatures slithering through sewage-like lagoons.
Some 5,000 to 6,000 broad-snouted caimans live in fetid lagoon systems of western Rio de Janeiro, conservationists say, and there’s a chance that visitors could have an encounter with one, though experts hasten to add that the caimans, smaller and less aggressive than alligators or crocodiles, are not considered a threat to humans.
Some of the animals have already taken refuge in ponds being built inside the Olympic golf course, which abuts a once pristine mangrove-filled lagoon that’s now thick with tons of raw sewage pumped from nearby high-end condominiums.
In fact, with two decades of anarchic growth decimating natural habitats, the hardy caimans have become an increasingly common sight in the urban heart of western Rio, drawn in part by the scraps tossed to them by humans.
Olympics: The district is the main hub for 2016 Games and site of the Olympic village, though most events will take place in indoor facilities. One exception is the golf course, where some caimans have taken up residence in lakes. Wildlife on golf courses isn’t uncommon, with alligators spotted on greens in Florida and kangaroos bounding around courses in Australia.
Conservationists say Olympic organizers are beginning to examine what to do about the reptiles on the still-unfinished golf course.
The caimans congregate in a canal in the affluent Recreio dos Bandeirantes suburb that’s sandwiched between two busy thoroughfares. Beach-bound mothers with toddlers in strollers, neighbors out to walk the dog and pizza delivery boys pause on a narrow wooden footbridge over the canal to observe the caimans, whose brown color camouflages them in the brackish, sulfuric waters.
Survival: With few fish surviving in the polluted waters, caiman increasingly rely on handouts from humans, which can range from raw chicken to crackers, sometimes still in their plastic packages. They also feed on birds and the sewer rats that emerge from the culverts.
“Caimans are like tanks, a very old species with a remarkable capacity for renovation that allows them to survive under extreme conditions where others couldn’t,” said Ricardo Freitas, an ecology professor who runs the Instituto Jacare, or the Caiman Institute, which aims to protect the reptiles. “But the fact of the matter is that their days are numbered if things don’t change drastically.”
With a population that’s 85 percent male, a serious demographic problem is looming for Rio’s caimans, said Freitas, who suspects that the uncontrolled release of raw sewage is behind the gender imbalance. Organic matter raises water warmer and among caimans, high temperatures during a certain stage of incubation result in male offspring.
While a few caimans wander from the canal, sometimes getting hit by cars, Freitas said he is aware of only one other person attacked by a caiman, a fisherman who was superficially bitten after he stepped on one.
Freitas himself has grabbed and tagged 400 of the reptiles over the past decade. He wades into the toxic sludge, slips a metal lasso around their heads and taps expertly on their snapping jaws until he’s able to tape them shut. While local caimans average about 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) long and weigh about 10 kilograms (22 pounds), older males can be up to twice as long and much heavier. Still, Freitas has been known to dive into the water to catch some with his bare hands.
“I was only bitten once, on the hand,” he said. “It was fine, although it got super infected because of the state of the water.”
Reported by JENNY BARCHFIELD of the Associated Press from RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil.
A huge cluster of jellyfish forced one of the world’s largest nuclear reactors to shut down — a phenomenon that marine biologists say could become more common.
Operators of the Oskarshamn nuclear plant in Sweden had to scramble reactor number three on Sunday after tons of jellyfish clogged the pipes that bring in cool water to the plant’s turbines.
The pipes were cleaned of the jellyfish and engineers restarted the reactor, which at 1,400 megawatts of output is the largest boiling-water reactor in the world, said Anders Osterberg, a spokesman for OKG, the plant operator.
Jellyfish are not a new problem for nuclear power plants. Last year the California-based Diablo Canyon facility had to shut its reactor two after gobs of sea salp —- a gelatinous, jellyfish-like organism —- clogged intake pipes. In 2005, the first unit at Oskarshamn was temporarily turned off due to a sudden jellyfish influx.
Nuclear power plants need a constant flow of water to cool their reactor and turbine systems, which is why many such plants are built near large bodies of water. Meanwhile, jellyfish blooms (a fancy word for a group of jellyfish), which float where ever the current takes them, get sucked up in the pipes.
Marine biologists, meanwhile, say they would not be surprised if more jellyfish shutdowns occur in the future.
“It’s true that there seems to be more and more of these extreme cases of blooming jellyfish,” said Lene Moller, a researcher at the Swedish Institute for the Marine Environment. “But it’s very difficult to say if there are more jellyfish, because there is no historical data.”
The species that caused the Oskarshamn shutdown is known as the common moon jellyfish.
“It’s one of the species that can bloom in extreme areas that . . . are overfished or have bad conditions,” said Moller. “The moon jelly likes these types of waters. They don’t care if there are algae blooms, they don’t care if the oxygen concentration is low. The fish leave . . . and (the moon jelly) can really take over the ecosystem.”
Moller said the biggest problem was that there’s no monitoring of jellyfish in the Baltic Sea to produce the data that scientists need to figure out how to tackle the issue.
Reported by GARY PEACH of the Associated PressRead More
Amid the misty treetops and giant tomato-sized figs in the Andean cloud forests, the researchers spotted the animal the first night.
“It sort of bounced around the trees almost like a monkey,” zoologist Roland Kays said, “doing its thing, eating the figs.”
The small, bushy-tailed, rust-colored furry mammal they named the olinguito was a rare find — the first new carnivore species found in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years.
Its discovery is a story that goes back a decade ago to efforts by zoologist Kristofer Helgen to count the number of species of the olingo, a member of the raccoon family. At the Field Museum of Chicago, what he found in a drawer stopped him dead in his tracks.
The orange pelts he saw were nothing like the skins of the larger, brown olingos. Searching further, the Smithsonian scientist found the skull was also different — shorter snout, dissimilar teeth.
“I knew at that point it was a new species, but I also knew I needed to be sure,” Helgen said. For years, he toiled away to confirm that the olinguito was a new species with thorough investigation and DNA testing.
Finally, he called upon Kays, the world’s resident olingo expert, to help him track down an olinguito in its natural habitat. The researchers, along with an Ecuadorian zoologist , set off on an expedition to the Andes in 2006.
Among the treetops, the team confirmed the existence of four distinct subspecies of olinguito. With its findings, the team in the following years reorganized the raccoon family tree using DNA sequencing and peered into every nook and cranny of their bones. Then, last week, they finally announce their findings last week.
The name: “Olinguito” is Spanish for “little, adorable olingo,” he said at a Smithsonian Institution news conference announcing the discovery. The researchers also published their findings online in the journal ZooKeys.
The discovery corrects a long-running case of mistaken identity. For decades, the animals had been observed in the wild, tucked away in museum collections, and even exhibited at zoos — including the National Zoo.
“In some ways, this animal was hiding in plain sight,” said Kays. Its pelts and bones were found stashed away in dusty museum drawers, either mislabeled or not labeled at all.
One captured olinguito puzzled zookeepers because it refused to breed or mingle with other olingos.
“They thought it was just a fussy olingo, but turns out it was completely the wrong species,” Helgen said.
The little guy: Weighing only two pounds — about as much as a guinea pig — the creature takes the title of smallest member of the raccoon family. It dines on fruits such as figs but also enjoys insects and plant nectar. Although the new animal is in the taxonomic Order Carnivora — a group of mammals that include cats and dogs — it is not carnivorous because it does not primarily eat meat.
Although olinguitos have been spotted in the cloud forests of the northern Andes — in rain forests at high elevations — scientists speculate that the animals also might live elsewhere in Central and South America.
Zoologist DeeAnn Reeder, of Bucknell University in central Pennsylvania finds the olinguito to be an “extraordinarily beautiful animal” and says that to describe a new carnivore in the 21st century is “special and amazing.”
“This gets people excited about science and museum work, and about the things you can discover,” she said.
Known before? Other discoveries often have been known to indigenous peoples for hundreds if not thousands of years, but not the olinguito. Helgen could find no one who knew anything about the animal, and no native names exist, even though its population is estimated to be in the tens of thousands.
The number also puts the little creature safely out of the endangered zone — for now. More than 40 percent of its historic habitat has been converted to agriculture or urban areas, the study has found.
“The cloud forest is really a magical place with figs and clouds and cool vegetation,” Kays said. He calls it as “a real crucible of evolution” whose isolation has promoted a vast diversification of animals.
Reported by MEERI KIM of The Washington Post.Read More
Forget elephants. Dolphins can swim circles around them when it comes to long-term memory.
Scientists in a new study repeatedly found that dolphins can remember the distinctive whistle — which acts as a name to the marine mammal — of another dolphin they haven’t seen in two decades.
Bailey the dolphin hadn’t seen another dolphin named Allie since the two juveniles lived together at the Dolphin Connection in Florida. Allie ended up in a Chicago area zoo, while Bailey got moved to Bermuda. Yet 20 1/2 years later, Bailey recognized and reacted to Allie’s distinctive signal when University of Chicago researcher Jason Bruck played it on a speaker.
Other dolphins had similar steel-trap memories. And it’s not just for relatives. It’s non-kin too.
“It’s mind-blowing; I know I can’t do it,” Bruck says. “Dolphins in fact have the longest social memory in all of the animal kingdom because their signature whistle doesn’t change.”
Studies have shown that monkeys can remember things for about four years and anecdotes have elephants remembering for about 10, Bruck says in an just-published paper. But remembering just a sound? With no visuals were included? It boggles even human minds, he says.
For Bruck, 33, it’s as if a long-lost classmate from middle school called him up and Bruck would be able to figure out who it was just from the voice.
Faces, yes, yearbook pictures, definitely, but voices that change with time, no way, Bruck says.
“We’re not as acoustically as adept as dolphins,” Bruck says. It helps that dolphins have massive parts of the brain that are geared toward sound.
Bruck thinks dolphins have the incredible memory because it could help them when they approach new dolphins on a potential group hunt. And even more likely it probably allows dolphins to avoid others that had mistreated them in the past, he says.
Reported by SETH BORENSTEIN of the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/borenbearsRead More
This week’s Kid Scoop shines the spotlight on two of the most endangered habitats in America: Swamps and wetlands. The problem is that many people want to use those areas to build buildings, roads and parks, but eliminating them often causes more problems than the engineers expected.
Bill Nye the Science Guy explores wetlands and the problems of building on them in this video. http://youtu.be/BeUPbGWg2KU
Wetlands and swamps also contain a lot of different variety in the wildlife that use it as their homes. Learn about how to keep a crayfish, one of the most common animals in swamps and wetlands, as a pet. http://youtu.be/rUJ18gRTr64
Check out this video featuring the mudskippers of the mangrove swamps. http://youtu.be/RoLPuYAuBmY
What is Kid Scoop? It’s a special page that appears every Monday in The York Dispatch and other local newspapers. Aside from its main feature and the Writing Corner, it includes games, puzzles and jokes.
Get your copy of Kid Scoop in today’s edition of The York Dispatch, and be sure to assemble your own Write On! entry and submit it to NIE@ync.com. We’ll run every entry here!
Of course, you can submit those entries, and anything else you want, for publication here on the Junior Dispatch. Send your JD items to email@example.com. Learn about what you can submit here.