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Spray-Painted Polar Bear Shocks and Worries Wildlife Experts

Animals

A video of a polar bear wandering around the Russian Arctic spray-painted with large numbers and letters has baffled and worried wildlife experts.


The footage, shared on Facebook Sunday by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) worker Sergey Kavry, shows the bear walk by with "T-34" sprayed in large black letters on its right side. The T-34 is a World War II Soviet tank, and some Russians paint its name on their cars during Victory Day celebrations in May, according to The Guardian.

"Why?!" Kavry wrote in a Facebook post, according to The Guardian. "He won't be able to hunt without being noticed!"

Kavry wasn't the only one surprised and concerned by the video. WWF Russia press officer Daria Buyanova told BBC News that the footage was "quite a shock."

Even the people filming the video seemed surprised, according to a translation and summary provided by The Siberian Times:

Why is it so dirty?' one of them asks as the recording begins.

'A spotty bear?' answers another, before realising there was writing on the predator.

We had to beep the rest of the recording due to the Russian expletives.

Kavry said he first received the footage from a WhatsApp group for the indigenous people of the Far Eastern Russian region of Chukotka, according to BBC News. However, he does not know where or when it was actually filmed. Experts are now trying to find out.

Anatoly Kochnev, a scientist at the Institute of Biological Problems of the North, said it could take weeks for the paint to wash off. Until it does, it could be more difficult for the bear to capture prey, since it relies on its white coat for camouflage.

Kochnev said the bear would likely have needed to be sedated for quite some time in order for someone to spray the letters so evenly.

'Scientists could not do this," Kochnev told Ria Novosti news agency, according to The Siberian Times, adding that it could have been a "joke."

Kochnev speculated further that the spray paint could have been related to recent "turmoil with polar bears" in Russia's Novaya Zemlya region. In February, authorities declared a state of emergency in the far north archipelago after more than 50 hungry polar bears entered human homes and buildings. The climate crisis has melted sea ice, forcing polar bears to wander into human settlements in search of food.

"[P]erhaps they took some measures ahead of the upcoming winter by catching and immobilising bears," Kochnev said.

Russian media also thought the spray paint might be a reflection of local anger over the increased presence of bears in human areas, BBC News reported.

If the spray-painting is a reaction to polar bears entering human settlements, it could backfire, Kavry speculated. In his Facebook post, he wrote that hunger could lead the bear to die, or harm others.

"It will enter villages," he 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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