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Lewis, the Koala Famously Rescued From Australian Bushfires, Has Died

Animals
Lewis, the Koala Famously Rescued From Australian Bushfires, Has Died
A video shows a woman rescuing a koala from Australia's wildfires. VOA News / YouTube screenshot

Lewis, the koala who stole the world's heart when a video of his rescue from Australian wildfires went viral, has died.


The koala rose to fame when Australian grandmother Toni Doherty was filmed risking her life to carry him out of the flames using the shirt off her back. Doherty named him Ellenborough Lewis after one of her seven grandchildren, according to HuffPost, and rushed him to the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital. But the hospital had to put him to sleep when his injuries proved too severe.

"We recently posted that 'burns injuries can get worse before they get better.' In Ellenborough Lewis's case, the burns did get worse, and unfortunately would not have gotten better. The Koala Hospital's number one goal is animal welfare, so it was on those grounds that this decision was made," the hospital wrote in a Facebook Post Tuesday.

Doherty and her husband, Peter, were present to say goodbye, 9News reported.

"We were there this morning. We are naturally very sad about this, as we were hoping he'd pull through but we accept his injuries were severe and debilitating and would have been quite painful," Peter Doherty told Australia based 9News.

Lewis's story brought attention to a wider crisis faced by Australia's Koala population in the midst of an extreme bushfire season. More than a million hectares have burned just in the state of New South Wales, BBC News reported, and the Australian summer has not even begun. Australia's Climate Council has warned for six years that the climate crisis is increasing the country's fire risk, and this has devastating consequences for koalas.

In October, the same hospital that tended Lewis warned that more than 350 koalas might have died when fires reached a koala habitat in Port Macquarie. Deborah Tabart, chairwoman of the Australian Koala Foundation, said this month that 80 percent of koala habitat has been destroyed by the fires.

The fires are especially perilous for koalas because they will climb trees and curl up into balls instead of running away. But they also scream for help when distressed, something that caught Doherty's attention.

"I've never heard a koala before. I didn't realise they could cry out. It was just so heart-rendering," Doherty told Today after rescuing Lewis, according to 9News.

Jill Filipovic wrote for CNN that Lewis's death was a symptom of a much larger problem, as the climate crisis and other human activities threaten Earth's biodiversity with mass extinction.

"Indeed, koalas are a particularly cute emblem of how a perfect storm of greed, nationalism, climate denialism, political cynicism has gathered to fundamentally alter life on earth as we know it," she wrote.

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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