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'Unprecedented' Wildfires Break Out in Northern and Southern California

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'Unprecedented' Wildfires Break Out in Northern and Southern California
The California Highway Patrol (CHP) Golden Gate Division Air Operations helicopter crews have rescued 42 people from wildfires since Sunday. CHP

California is on fire. Multiple major fires broke out in many parts of the state, burning more than 100,000 acres.

More than a dozen wildfires ravaged across Northern California as of Tuesday morning. At least 11 people have died, 100 have been injured, tens of thousands evacuated, and more than 1,500 homes and businesses were destroyed. In Sonoma County, fire officials fielded 100 phone calls about missing persons.


350.org founder Bill McKibben tweeted that the Napa firestorm left the city looking like it had been bombed.

The wine country blazes started on Sunday and are among the most devastating in state history, according to media reports.

"We often have multiple fires going on, but the majority of them all started right around same time period, same time of night—it's unprecedented," Amy Head, the fire captain spokesperson for Cal Fire, told the Guardian. "I hate using that word because it's been overused a lot lately because of how fires have been in the past few years, but it truly is—there's just been a lot of destruction."

Head added that the fires were probably linked to a warming climate: "It has been hotter, it has been drier, our fire seasons have been longer, fires are burning more intensely, which is a direct correlation to the climate changing."

2017 Statewide Fire Map

The flames spread quickly due to powerful winds and high temperatures.

"We also had really gusty winds and really warm temperatures," National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Mehle told the Los Angeles Times. "This time of year it does happen quite a bit. For the San Francisco Bay Area, our summer is late September to early October; that's when we have our warmest and driest conditions."

In Southern California, more than 5,000 homes were evacuated because of a Monday brushfire in the Anaheim Hills area in Orange County. The inferno, dubbed Canyon Fire 2, has destroyed 24 structures and burned at least 6,000 acres.

Smoke from the fire inundated the skies above nearby theme park Disneyland.

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Orange County Monday afternoon after issuing emergency declarations for the affected areas in the northern part of the state earlier that day.

The governor's Office of Emergency Services tweeted that the state is "fully engaged in response efforts for NorCal fires" and "all hands on deck."

The Governor also requested a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration to support the state and local response to fires burning in Northern California.

The Governor also requested a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration to support the state and local response to fires burning in Northern California,

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 — 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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