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Thousands Flee as Taal Volcano Roars to Life in the Philippines

Climate
Thousands Flee as Taal Volcano Roars to Life in the Philippines
Residents walk past the eruption of Taal volcano in the Philippines Monday. TED ALJIBE / AFP via Getty Images

The second-most active volcano in the Philippines belched to life on Sunday when it sent a cloud of ash miles into the air that forced thousands to evacuate and shuttered the airport in the capital of Manila.


The eruption of the Taal volcano continued Monday when it began gushing lava, The Associated Press reported. People living nearby also felt tremors, and the country's volcanic institute warned of a potential "volcanic tsunami" in the lake that surrounds the volcanic island, according to The New York Times.

"The earthquakes were strong, and it felt like there was a monster coming out," Cookie Siscar, who heard about the eruption from her husband Emer, told The New York Times.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology raised the volcano's Alert Level to four out of five Sunday evening, indicating that a "hazardous eruption" is "imminent."

Taal volcano is located on an island around 40 miles south of Manila in the Philippines' Batangas province, according to The New York Times. Around 6,000 people live on the island itself, but people in the surrounding areas are also at risk. More than 13,000 people in Batangas and nearby Cavite province have been evacuated to shelters so far, according to The Associated Press. But authorities expect that number to balloon. More than 450,000 people are estimated to live within the volcano's danger zone, the Official United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

According to BBC News, Batangas province has already declared a "state of calamity."

So far, the major impact has been ash. The volcano sent ash, steam and pebbles six to nine miles into the air Sunday, The Associated Press reported. The ash spread more than 62 miles north of the volcano, reaching Manila, where it forced the international airport to close. More than 500 flights were canceled.

The airport was able to resume "partial operations" Monday morning, BBC News reported. But schools were closed, government work paused and the Philippines stock exchange canceled trading for the day.

In the villages, meanwhile, the ashfall threatened homes and livelihoods.

"My father is missing," evacuee Irene de Claro, whose father stayed behind when the rest of the family fled a village in Batangas, told The Associated Press. "We don't know too what happened to our house because the ash was up to our knees, it was very dark and the ground was constantly shaking when we left. Most likely there's nothing for us to return to. We're back to zero."

Fear of losing farms or livestock means some people are refusing to evacuate.

"We have a problem, our people are panicking due to the volcano because they want to save their livelihood, their pigs and herds of cows," Mayor Wilson Maralit of Balete town told DZMM radio, as The Associated Press reported. "We're trying to stop them from returning and warning that the volcano can explode again anytime and hit them."

So far, there have been no deaths or injuries reported.

Taal volcano has erupted more than 30 times in 500 years, according to BBC News. The last time was in 1977.

Because it lies on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," the Philippines is often threatened by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. It also weathers around 20 typhoons or major storms every year, according to The Associated Press. The last was less than a month ago, when Typhoon Phanfone struck the predominantly Catholic country on Christmas Day.

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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