'Everything Is Interconnected': Photo of Radiant Spider Web Wins EcoWatch Contest
EcoWatch is excited to announced the winner of our first-ever Gratitude Photo Contest. Participants sent us their best shots of what in nature they were most thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Our three amazing judges—Greenpoint Innovations founder Stephen Donofrio, marine scientist Gaelin Rosenwaks and documentary photographer Marc Bryan-Brown—picked their favorites from more than 70 photo entries of breathtaking landscapes, incredible wildlife and majestic waterways.
And the winner is … Dakota Altman of Lincoln, Nebraska who photographed a spider and its intricate, wheel-shaped web during a morning hike to a saline wetland located just a few miles from his home.
"The morning light hit a patch of grass suddenly revealing a landscape dotted with silvery orbs of spider silk," he told us about the shot. "Upon seeing this I knew that my subject was going to be a spider and its web. I found it important to get down low and compose the photo as if the viewer was there kneeling among the grass."
Altman works as an assistant and biologist for the Photo Ark, a project of long-time National Geographic contributor Joel Sartore.
"My love for invertebrates has always drawn me to photograph them," Altman said. "Spiders, in particular, get a bad rap so shining a beautiful light upon them will hopefully change people's preconceived notions. This change I would like to extend to the importance of saline wetlands, marshes and prairies where most of my work is being done."
Rosenwaks said that the photo really stood out to her from the other entries.
"I felt the winning image captured the scope of what an ecosystem is; the intricacy of a complex environment where everything is interconnected," she said.
Similarly, Donofrio said the photo was "unique in how it was able to visualize a landscape and a micro ecosystem at the same time."
Altman, who received a $250 Patagonia eGift Card for winning the contest, said he hopes that the photo will inspire others, especially younger generations, to look more closely and view their surroundings in greater detail.
"You don't have to visit distant continents or remote jungles to find something extraordinary," he said.
Runners-up of the Gratitude Photo Contest include Dorothy Cullen's "Don't Worry, Bee Happy"—a stunning close-up of a bee.
During the judging period, Donofrio said he was "drawn to how this bee seems to be so powerful and big, despite its actual size."
"Don't Worry, Bee Happy"Dorothy Cullen
Another participant, Balazs Dibuz, contributed "Stillness," a serene image of Slocan Lake in British Columbia, Canada. It was among many striking landscape photo entries we received.
"The tranquility and peacefulness in this beautiful landscape is breathtaking," Bryan-Brown said. "The muted layers of tones as the image recedes into the mists add to a sense of blissful isolation. As I look at this image I want nothing more than to be standing on that beach."
"Stillness" Balazs Dibuz
The judges were impressed by the high quality of the entries.
"All of the images evoked a strong sense of emotion which is appropriate because of the theme of gratitude," Rosenwaks said. "It was clear that every image meant a lot to the photographer. I was honored to be one of the judges."
Donofrio added, "It was wonderful to see the range of submissions that truly show how gloriously diverse of a natural world we have around us, all evoking an understanding of how we as a human race give thanks and value to the places in which we live."
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.
"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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