Tagged: Nature

Terrifying new wasp species wears a massive, sword-like stinger on its butt

Wasps suck. Unlike many common species of bees, wasps (which are NOT bees) are often openly hostile, and sometimes they seem to pick a fight with you just for the fun of it. You probably don’t need any more reasons to dislike them, but just in case you do, scientists just discovered a new wasp species in the Amazon that looks like it was designed specifically to evoke fear and disdain in equal measure.

The creature, which was discovered by researchers from Finland’s University of Turku, has all the classic features of a wasp; a narrow body equipped with long, thin wings, and a head covered with two huge compound eyes. It also has a stinger. Oh boy, does it have a stinger.

The species official name is Clistopyga crassicaudata, and it’s managed to capture the imaginations of both the scientific community and the general public thanks to its huge, sword-like stinger.

The weapon is long but it’s also very wide which makes it unique among wasps. Female wasps use their stinger as a dual-purpose tool to lay eggs, and this new species is no different. However, instead of laying their eggs in an isolated area or depositing them on a felled foe so that the larva can snag a quick meal after hatching, the newly discovered species actually injects their eggs into the bodies of the spiders they prey on, as well as spider egg sacks.

Before performing the deed, the wasp injects the host spider with a shot of venom, immobilizing it but not outright killing it. The eggs are injected into its body and, as the spider rests in a hellish state of limbo, the eggs eventually hatch and the larva munches its way out of the spider’s body from the inside. When using an egg sack instead of an adult spider, the wasp eggs hatch before the spiders’ and feast on the unborn arachnids.

It’s all very horrifying, but hey, that’s nature!

A pride of lions brutally killed a bunch of poachers and I’m struggling to feel sad

Despite all the very clear evidence that illegal hunting is pushing many species into extinction, animals like rhinos are still being taken down by low-life poachers. Rhino horn carries a high price in certain countries which apparently don’t understand that it’s the same material that comes out of the end of human fingers, and poachers will do anything to take down the animals and score a big pay day.

One group of rhino poachers in South Africa recently got exactly what they deserved when their illegal hunting expedition was cut short by a flurry of claws and teeth. Oh sweet, sweet justice.

The hunters, apparently tracking rhino in the protected area, met up with a huge pride of lions and, well, you can imagine how things played out. The poachers were grossly outmatched, despite their high-powered weapons, and none of them made it out alive.

The mangled remains of the men were found by park rangers in an area of the Sibuya reserve, and all that was left of them was whatever the lions didn’t feel like eating. In fact, the leftovers were so torn up that rangers can’t tell if it was two or three men. The owner of the reserve casually noted that “there’s not much left of them.”

Along with the bloody smears, rangers found a silenced rifle as well as an axe and wire-cutters which are used to break into protected areas so the morons can kill animals they have no business killing. They won’t be doing much of that anymore.

You might be thinking to yourself “But Mike, these were human lives! Surely there’s some amount of mourning that is warranted!”

To that I say no. Poachers have illegally tallied over 7,000 rhinos in South Africa just in the past decade, and that’s to say nothing of the other species that are regularly poached — including lions. If you’re willing to break into a reserve to kill animals that are almost extinct, you get to roll the dice with Mother Nature. Mother Nature, at times, is ruthless.

Scientists just discovered that spiders can fly using electricity, spawning fresh nightmare fuel

Some animals were born to fly, but most were not. Humans have no business in the air but we’ve come up with a number of ways to get there, and now it seems that spiders are following very close behind. Scientists have known for some time that various spider species have learned to fly by creating silk sails to carry them aloft, but a new study reveals that gusts of wind might not be the only way they’re getting around.

The research, which was published in Current Biology, reveals that spiders have learned how to harness the Earth’s own electric fields and use them to fly for incredibly long distances. The discovery suggests that the arachnids are capable of traveling over long distances even without wind to carry them.

Theories surrounding spiders responding to electrical fields have existed for some time, but there was very little in the way of concrete evidence to support them. Spiders have been observed taking to the skies en masse, even when there is very little winds present, so scientists believed there must be something pushing them along and perhaps even triggering their behavior.

To finally test this idea, researchers mimicked a natural electrical field in an experiment using a pair of electrically charged metal plates. When placed between the plates, the spiders began to behave as though they were preparing to release their silk balloons, giving some serious weight to the theory that invisible electrical forces can prompt the arachnids to sail away. Some of the spiders even managed to launch themselves into the air in despite being stuck in the confines of the enclosed test box.

The fact that these lightweight spiders can fly even without gusty winds is a remarkable discovery, and it helps explain why spiders are often found in some of the most unlikely places. As NPR notes, spiders are often found on newly formed volcanic islands, and have even been spotted landing on ships far off the ocean coasts. They seem to be able to travel just about anywhere, and if they’re using electrical fields to take to the skies they might even be more talented fliers than us.

Nature iPad Case

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Will we even recognize alien life when we see it? NASA isn’t so sure

Decades of science fiction movies, tv shows, and video games have led us to believe that when we spot another planet that has life we’re going to know it right away. It’ll look a lot like Earth, the movies tell us, and even if the colors are slightly different, there will be no mistaking it from a distance. Unfortunately for NASA, the reality is a whole lot more complicated.

In a new article, along with a handful of research papers, NASA asks the very important question of what exactly a life-supporting planet will look like from afar. As it turns out, detecting alien life on another planet is probably going to be a complicated, inexact science, even with the latest telescope technology.

“What does a living planet look like?” Mary Parenteau, a NASA astrobiologist and co-author of the research, asks. “We have to be open to the possibility that life may arise in many contexts in a galaxy with so many diverse worlds —  perhaps with purple-colored life instead of the familiar green-dominated life forms on Earth, for example. That’s why we are considering a broad range of biosignatures.”

Those biosignatures would be easy to detect on a planet within our own Solar System, but for distant planets orbiting alien stars, things get a lot more tricky. In order to detect life on an exoplanet all we’ll really have to go on is the light we see bouncing off of it, and that means lots of guesswork.

The researchers argue that we’ll need to take many different potential biosignatures into account when observing far-off worlds. Abiotic processes — that is, natural processes that don’t require the presence of life, like a volcano or storms — can sometimes mimic the signs that we might associate with a “living” planet. Further complicating matters is the variety of star types that exoplanets orbit. Some of the cooler stars emit infrared light, making observation somewhat more difficult.

Ultimately, scientists will have to weigh all the evidence together when deciding whether a planet might be suitable for a long-term mission, but even if a planet is giving all the right clues, life could still evade us.

“We won’t have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to finding life elsewhere,”NASA’s Shawn Domagal-Goldman, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, explains. “What we will have is a high level of confidence that a planet appears alive for reasons that can only be explained by the presence of life.”