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Google Doodle Celebrates Earth Day by Highlighting Six Unique Species

Animals
Google Doodle Celebrates Earth Day by Highlighting Six Unique Species
Wandering Albatrosses on Prion Island, South Georgia Island, Antarctica. Paul Souders / Corbis Documentary / Getty Images Plus

The theme for today's Earth Day is "Protect Our Species," so Google has gotten in on the celebration with a doodle that celebrates the amazing biodiversity of life on earth.


The doodle presents illustrations and facts about six unique species that represent a variety of different life forms.

"The last thing I wanted to do was feature animals based on their cuteness or how they might appeal in some way to my mammalian sensibilities," lead artist Kevin Laughlin said. "We tried to focus on having a good range of organisms from around the globe that all had an extra special unique quality or earthly superlative."

The featured species are:

  1. The wandering albatross, which has the widest wingspan of any bird.
  2. The coastal redwood, which is the tallest tree in the world.
  3. Paedophryne amauensis, which is both the smallest frog and the smallest vertebrate in the world.
  4. The Amazon water lily, which is one of the world's largest aquatic plants.
  5. The coelacanth, a rare type of fish that is one of the oldest living creatures in the world, dating back to 407-million years ago.
  6. The deep cave springtail, a hexapod that is one of the deepest-living animals on earth.

Laughlin said he learned a lot about earth's amazing species while researching the doodle.

"Apparently scientists were able to coax deep cave springtails with a bit of cheese," Laughlin said. "So we're not so different from these little hexapods, after all!"

Laughlin said he hoped his work would inspire a sense of wonder about the earth and its creatures.

"How often does one take a moment to contemplate a tiny critter that lives in the bowels of a cave in Georgia? All life is incredible and worth celebrating," he said.

The reason for this year's Earth Day theme, however, is that so much of that incredible life is disappearing.

"Unfortunately, human beings have irrevocably upset the balance of nature and, as a result, the world is facing the greatest rate of extinction since we lost the dinosaurs more than 60 million years ago," the Earth Day Network wrote. "But unlike the fate of the dinosaurs, the rapid extinction of species in our world today is the result of human activity."

Since Earth Day 2018, some alarming studies have revealed the extent of human destruction. Scientists calculated in October, 2018 that 60 percent of bird, reptile, mammal and fish populations had been killed offt by human activity since 1970. Another study released in February of this year warned that more than 40 percent of insects could go extinct within a few decades and 100 percent could be lost within a century.

Major factors driving extinction are climate change, habitat loss including deforestation, pollution, pesticide use, unsustainable agriculture and poaching, according to the Earth Day Network.

"The good news is that the rate of extinctions can still be slowed, and many of our declining, threatened and endangered species can still recover if we work together now to build a united global movement of consumers, voters, educators, faith leaders, and scientists to demand immediate action," the group said.

Here are the actions they recommended:

  1. Educate yourself and others about the rate and causes of extinction.
  2. Work towards policies that protect species.
  3. Organize a global movement to protect nature.
  4. Promote individual actions that protect wildlife like going vegan or gardening and farming without pesticides and herbicides.

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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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