Fire Kills at Least 30 Animals at German Monkey House
At least 30 animals died early New Year's Day in a fire at a monkey house at a zoo in Krefeld, Germany, The New York Times reported.
The Great Ape House had housed orangutans, chimpanzees, lowland gorillas, rodents, marmosets and birds before it burned down a little after midnight Wednesday.
"Our worst fears have become reality," the zoo wrote in a Facebook post reported by The Guardian.
"The chimpanzees Bally and Limbo miraculously survived the devastating fire," the zoo said, according to The New York Times.
An open-air gorilla enclosure close to the destroyed monkey house was spared, along with popular silverback Kidogo and his family, The Guardian reported. However, another silverback, 48-year-old Massa, who was the oldest silverback in the European endangered species breeding program, died.
All told, the fire killed five orangutans, one chimpanzee, two gorillas and smaller monkeys and flying foxes, Euronews reported.
"An unbelievable tragedy rolled us shortly after midnight," the zoo wrote of the fire, according to Euronews.
Local residents reported the fire at 12:38 a.m. Wednesday, but firefighters were not able to control the flames before they had consumed all but the scaffolding of the monkey house, according to The Guardian. However, the firefighters were able to prevent the fire from spreading to other zoo buildings, The Local Germany reported.
A video posted on social media showed the fire reaching treetops, according to Euronews.
The zoo remained closed Wednesday and Thursday.
"[W]e would like to thank everyone for the overwhelming wave of compassion and offers of help that reach us online and offline," the zoo wrote when it announced Thursday's closure.
Police are investigating the fire, and think it might have been caused by sky lanterns that were released into the air to celebrate the New Year.
"People reported seeing those sky lanterns flying at low altitude near the zoo and then it started burning," Gerd Hoppmann, the head of Krefeld's criminal police, told BBC News.
Used lanterns were also found near the enclosure.
It is illegal to sell the lanterns in every German state except Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in the east, The Guardian reported.
The enclosure was built in 1975 and measured 21,500 square feet, according to BBC News. It was designed to mimic a tropical rainforest environment.
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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