Scientists Name Brazilian Cave Spider After Aragog from Harry Potter

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iStock

Multiple new species, from wasps to crabs, have been named after Harry Potter characters. Now, CNET reports that Brazilian scientists have given a newly identified cave spider the name Ochyrocera aragogue, after Hagrid's enormous pet spider Aragog. Keeping with a theme of literary inspiration, the researchers also chose classic names for six additional arachnids they discovered underground in northern Brazil. They published news of their finds on January 10 in the science journal ZooKeys.

A team from Brazilian biological research center Instituto Butantan, Sao Paulo, found the cave-dwelling spiders among 2000 adult specimens collected throughout five years of field research. All seven species belong to the genus Ochyrocera and reside underground in iron caves across Pará, a state in northern Brazil. (Pará is home to Carajás Mine, one of the world's largest iron ore mines.) Scientists say the region might contain even more spiders like them, though mining activities reduce the area's biodiversity.

Unlike the elephant-sized Aragog, who readers first met in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the newly discovered arachnids are all tiny, measuring less than an inch in total size. They're also distinct from many cave-loving critters in that they aren't all pale white and aren't missing any of their six eyes. The spiders are technically able to spend their entire lives in caves, but they've also been known to crawl towards the opening and even venture outside.

In addition to Ochyrocera aragogue, researchers were inspired to name some Brazilian cave spiders after creepy-crawly figures from fantasy works like George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, and H. P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu. Monikers included Ochyrocera laracna, after the spider Laracna who attacks Frodo and Sam in LOTR; Ochyrocera varys, after GoT's Lord Varys (a.k.a. The Spider), and Ochyrocera atlachnacha, in honor of the Lovecraftian spider god Atlach-Nacha.

Ochyrocera varys, a new cave spider discovered in Brazil named after the character Lord Varys from 'Game of Thrones'
Ochyrocera varys
Igor Cizauskas

Ochyrocera atlachnacha, a new spider discovered in Brazil named after the Spider God Atlach-Nacha from H. P. Lovecraft's works.
Ochyrocera atlachnacha
Igor Cizauskas

Since not all literary spiders are spooky, the scientists also paid homage to E.B. White's Charlotte's Web and David Kirk's children's series Little Miss Spider, dubbing two other newly discovered spiders Ochyrocera charlotte and Ochyrocera misspider, respectively.

Ochyrocera misspider, a new arachnid species discovered by cave areas in Floresta Nacional de Carajás, in Brazil.
Ochyrocera misspider
Courtesy of Igor Cizauskas

This isn't the first time a spider has been named after Hagrid's pet; in 2017, scientists from the University of Tehran dubbed a new species of wolf spider discovered in southeastern Iran Lycosa aragogi.

[h/t CNET]

Science Finds a Better Way to Calculate 'Dog Years'

thegoodphoto/iStock via Getty Images
thegoodphoto/iStock via Getty Images

Anyone who has ever owned a pet is likely familiar with the concept of “dog years,” which suggests that one year for a dog is like seven years for a human. Using this conversion metric, a 2-year-old dog is akin to a high school freshman, while a 10-year-old dog is ready for an assisted living facility.

If that seems rather arbitrary, that’s because it is. But now, researchers at the University of California, San Diego have come to a more data-based measurement on dog aging through DNA.

The paper, published on the preprint server bioRxiv, based the finding on DNA methylation, a process in which molecules called methyl groups attach themselves to DNA and serve as an indicator of aging. Generally speaking, the older living beings get, the faster the rate of methylation. In the study, 104 Labrador retrievers were examined, with subjects ranging from 1 month to 16 years old. The results of their DNA methylation were compared to human profiles. While the rate of methylation tracked closely between the two—young and old dogs had similar rates to young and old people—adolescent and mature dogs experienced more accelerated aging.

Their recommended formula for comparing dog and human aging? Multiply the natural logarithm of a dog’s age by 16, then add 31. Or, just use this calculator. Users will see that a 2-year-old dog, for example, wouldn’t be the canine equivalent of a 14-year-old. It would be equivalent to 42 human years old and should probably start putting money into a 401(k). But because methylation slows considerably in mid-life, a 5-year-old dog is approximately a 57-year-old human, while a 6-year-old dog is nearing 60 in human years—a minor difference. Things level out as the dog gets much older, with a 10-year-old dog nearing a 70-year-old human.

Different breeds age at different rates, so the formula might not necessarily apply to other dog breeds—only Labs were studied. The work is awaiting peer review, but it does offer a promising glimpse into how our furry companions grow older.

[h/t Live Science]

Sssspectacular: Tree Snakes in Australia Can Actually Jump

sirichai_raksue/iStock via Getty Images
sirichai_raksue/iStock via Getty Images

Ophidiophobia, or fear of snakes, is common among humans. We avoid snakes in the wild, have nightmares about snakes at night, and recoil at snakes on television. We might even be born with the aversion. When researchers showed babies photos of snakes and spiders, their tiny pupils dilated, indicating an arousal response to these ancestral threats.

If you really want to scare a baby, show them footage of an Australian tree snake. Thanks to researchers at Virginia Tech, we now know these non-venomous snakes of the genus Dendrelaphis can become airborne, propelling themselves around treetops like sentient Silly String.

That’s Dendrelaphis pictus, which was caught zipping through the air in 2010. After looking at footage previously filmed by her advisor Jake Socha, Virginia Tech Ph.D. candidate Michelle Graham headed for Australia and built a kind of American Ninja Warrior course for snakes out of PVC piping and tree branches. Graham observed that the snakes tend to spot their landing target, then spring upward. The momentum gets them across gaps that would otherwise not be practical to cross.

Graham next plans to investigate why snakes feel compelled to jump. They might feel a need to escape, or continue moving, or do it because they can. Two scientific papers due in 2020 could provide answers.

Dendrelaphis isn’t the only kind of snake with propulsive capabilities. The Chrysopelea genus includes five species found in Southeast Asia and China, among other places, that can glide through the air.

[h/t National Geographic]

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