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North Carolina Pug Tests Positive for Coronavirus, Could Be First Infected Dog in U.S.

Animals

A family pug in North Carolina may be the first dog in the U.S. to test positive for the novel coronavirus, according to Duke University researchers, as CNN reported.


The dog belongs to the McLean family in Chapel Hill, NC, who participated in the Duke University study looking at possible treatments for COVID-19. The virus also infected three of the family members: Dr. Heather McLean, Dr. Samuel McLean and their son Ben McLean. Their daughter, Sydney McLean, never showed signs of infection. The family members submit nasal swabs and blood samples weekly.

The researchers also collect samples from the family pets. Of the family pets tested, Winston, who is 2, was the only one to test positive. Both Otis, 13, the older of the McLeans's two pugs, and Mr. Nibs, a 12-year-old tabby cat, tested negative. The family's lizard was not tested, according to The New York Times.

"To our knowledge, this is the first instance in which the virus has been detected in a dog," said Dr. Chris Woods, the principal investigator on Duke's Molecular and Epidemiological Study of Suspected Infection study, in a statement, as TIME reported. "Little additional information is known at this time as we work to learn more about the exposure."

The family said the dog's symptoms lasted only a few days and were mild. The dog was sluggish, sneezing and breathing heavily. Most telling of all, they said, he didn't finish breakfast one morning, as The New York Times reported.

"Pugs are a little unusual in that they cough and sneeze in a very strange way," said Heather McLean, a a professor of pediatrics at Duke University School of Medicine, to local news WRAL. "So it almost seems like he was gagging, and there was one day when he didn't want to eat his breakfast, and if you know pugs you know they love to eat, so that seemed very unusual."

McLean's son Ben told WRAL that "(The dog) licks all of our dinner plates and sleeps in my mom's bed, and we're the ones who put our faces into his face. So, it makes sense that he got (coronavirus)."

The researchers noted that the dog, Winston, had trace amounts of the virus, meaning he was unlikely to spread it.

"His (Winston's) amount of virus that we detected was very low, suggesting that he would not be a likely mechanism or vector of transmission of virus to either other animals or ... to humans in these households," said Woods, as CNN reported.

Experts have said that there is no evidence that pets can transmit the virus to people, and that people should not worry about giving the virus to their pets, according to The New York Times. However, if Winston's case is confirmed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it will raise questions about animal susceptibility to coronavirus.

Dr. John Howe, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, told The New York Times that he was not alarmed by Winston's positive test, noting that just because a nasal swab test showed exposure did not mean the virus was in his bloodstream.

"I don't believe he was truly infected — you would need to do an antibody test," he said, adding that it is important that people provide their pets with love and care. "Your pets are not going to catch it from you."

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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