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Animal Cruelty Becomes Federal Crime

Animals
Animal Cruelty Becomes Federal Crime

A bill making animal cruelty a federal crime is now the law of the land after President Donald Trump signed it on Monday.


The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT) expands a 2010 law banning videos that show animals being harmed, The New York Times explained, making the acts themselves also illegal under federal law. Its passage was truly a bipartisan effort. It was introduced into the House by a Republican and a Democrat from Florida and passed in both the House and Senate unanimously.

"PACT makes a statement about American values. Animals are deserving of protection at the highest level," Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) CEO and President Kitty Block said in a statement reported by ABC News. "The approval of this measure by the Congress and the president marks a new era in the codification of kindness to animals within federal law. For decades, a national anti-cruelty law was a dream for animal protectionists. Today, it is a reality."

The sponsoring of animal fights is already banned by federal law, according to The New York Times, and animal cruelty is a federal felony in all 50 states. But this law, which punishes the intentional harming of animals with fines and prison sentences of up to seven years, will make it easier for prosecutors to tackle cases that cross state lines and funnel more resources towards animal cruelty cases.

"It is important that we combat these heinous and sadistic acts of cruelty, which are totally unacceptable in a civilized society," Trump said at the signing ceremony Monday, as The New York Times reported.

The new law will make a big difference for animal welfare in the nation's capital, CBS News explained:

"This bill is particularly important to us as the only humane law enforcement agency in D.C.," Chris Schindler, vice president of field services at the Humane Rescue Alliance told CBS News in a statement. "Our officers investigate thousands of animal cruelty cases each year, but have been unable to truly bring justice for the animals in instances when the cruelty occurs across multiple jurisdictions."

"The PACT Act is a necessary tool for us to provide further protections for animals and our community, and will ensure some of the most horrific acts of animal cruelty are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Schindler's statement continued.

The effort to legislate against animal cruelty on the federal level stretches back to the late 1990s, The New York Times explained. That's when HSUS began investigating so-called "crush videos" that depict the torture or murder of animals, frequently when a woman steps on them. A ban on these videos was passed in 1999, but was struck down by the Supreme Court for violating the First Amendment after some argued that it was too extensive. President Barack Obama signed a replacement law in 2010, which the current law expands.

"After decades of work to protect animals and bearing witness to some of the worst cruelty, it's so gratifying the Congress and president unanimously agreed that it was time to close the gap in the law and make malicious animal cruelty within federal jurisdiction a felony," Humane Society Legislative Fund head Sara Amundson said in a statement reported by ABC News. "We cannot change the horrors of what animals have endured in the past, but we can crack down on these crimes moving forward. This is a day to celebrate."

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes β€” the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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