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20 Oct

There's A Puppy-Sized Spider In The Rainforest

Next time you're trekking through the rainforest in Guyana, look out for a spider the size of a small dog.

Entomologist Piotr Naskrecki spotted the massive South American Goliath birdeater (Theraphosa blondi) on a nighttime walk through the rainforest. As he writes on his blog,

"Although far from being the largest member of the subphylum Chelicerata – this honor belongs to horseshoe crabs – Goliath birdeaters are ridiculously huge for a land arthropod. Their leg span approaches 30 cm (nearly a foot) and they weigh up to 170 g – about as much as a young puppy."

When Naskrecki approached the creature, as detailed in his blog post titled 'The sound of little hooves in the night,' the spider "would start rubbing its hind legs against the hairy abdomen" and made a hissing noise.

See photos of the puppy-sized spider on The Smaller Majority.

Learn about more alarming arachnids on Science Channel:

Trapdoor Spider

Ogre-Faced Spider

Tent Spider Colony

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16 Oct

Earth Just Had the Hottest September On Record

This was the warmest September since record-keeping began 134 years ago, new NASA data reveals, marking "September [2014] as the 355th month in a row that was hotter than the 20th-century average," according to DNews.

Furthermore, Slate notes, "the last six months were collectively the warmest middle half of the year in NASA’s records -- dating back to 1880."

El Niño, a period of unusually warm sea surface temperatures, is still to come this year.

What Are El Niño and La Niña?

Global Warming, Shrinking Glaciers and CO2 Emissions

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8 Sep

Newly-Discovered Dinosaur Weighed As Much As 7 T. Rex

Just how big was Dreadnoughtus, a newly-discovered dinosaur that roamed Earth around 77 million years ago?

Absolutely massive.

"It weighed as much as a dozen African elephants or more than seven T. rex," Drexel University paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara, who discovered the dinosaur in Argentina, said in a statement. "Shockingly, skeletal evidence shows that when this 65-ton specimen died, it was not yet full grown. It is by far the best example we have of any of the most giant creatures to ever walk the planet."

The 85-foot-long, 65-ton creature had "a body the size of a house, the weight of a herd of elephants, and a weaponized tail," Lacovara described. As such, Dreadnoughtus' name was chosen because it means "fears nothing."

Dreadnoughtus is part of a group of supermassive planet-eating dinosaurs called titanosaurs.

 How did a Tyrannosaurus rex bite compare with a modern alligator? Find out:

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2 Sep

Cannibal Crickets Are Invading The U.S. (But No Need To Panic, Probably)

Voracious, rapacious crickets are flooding into the United States and there's "no end to the invasion in sight." Good luck, and may the force be with you.

Wait, let's back up.

Greenhouse camel crickets (Diestrammena asynamora) are native to Asia and weren't thought to be common in the U.S. until one was discovered by happenstance in the home of a North Carolina State University.

In a sample of 10 homes in Raleigh, North Carolina, researchers "found large numbers of greenhouse camel crickets, with higher numbers being found in the areas of the yards closest to homes."

"The good news is that camel crickets don’t bite or pose any kind of threat to humans," Dr. Mary Jane Epps, lead author of a paper -- "Too big to be noticed: cryptic invasion of Asian camel crickets in North American houses" -- about the research, said in a statement.

Camel crickets have insatiable appetites for anything and everything -- even members of their own species -- but the researchers say the public shouldn't panic about the foreign invasion.

"Because they are scavengers, camel crickets may actually provide an important service in our basements or garages, eating the dead stuff that accumulates there," the paper's co-author Dr. Holly Menninger, said in a release.

Can't get enough? Meet a reclusive spider with a ravenous appetite:

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28 Aug

WATCH: Scientists Raised 111 Fish To Walk On Land

Screen-Shot-2014-08-28-at-10.50.59-AMFish that can walk on land and breathe air exist, and they're providing important clues to how their ancient ancestors evolved from swimming in the sea to living on land.

In a study published in the journal Nature, researchers at McGill University studied Polypterus senegalus (the Senegal bichir or "dinosaur eel"), fish with "functional lungs and strong fins" that can pull themselves out of the water.

The scientists raised 111 juvenile bichir on land for eight months and monitored changes compared to a control group of fish remaining in water.

"Fish raised on land walk with a more effective gait," lead author Emily Standen told The Verge. "They plant their legs closer to the body’s midline, they lift their heads higher, and they slip less during that walking cycle."

Scientists found major differences between land-raised and aquatic-raised bichir, NBC News reports:

"They found that the land-raised fish lifted their heads higher, held their fins closer to their bodies, took faster steps, undulated their tails less frequently and had fins that slipped less often than bichir raised in water. The land-raised fish also underwent changes in their skeletons and musculature that probably paved the way for their changes in behavior. All in all, these alterations helped bichir move more effectively on land."

So, what does it all mean for the study of evolution?

"This is the first example we know of that demonstrates developmental plasticity may have facilitated a large-scale evolutionary transition," Hans Larsson of McGill University said in a statement, "by first accessing new anatomies and behaviours that could later be genetically fixed by natural selection."

For more, learn how another species of fish also evolved a unique method for getting a meal:

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25 Aug

Visit A National Park For Free Today On National Park Service's 98th Birthday

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 10.22.56 AMThe National Park Service turns 98 today. To celebrate, all national parks are FREE today.

Find a national park near you.

Officially established on August 25, 1916, the National Park Service now oversees "401 areas covering more than 84 million acres in every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands."

The parks range from Alaska's massive Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, spanning 13.2 million acres, to .02-acre Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

America's oldest national park actually outdates the NPS: Yellowstone National Park was created by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872.

Yellowstone's "supervolcano" frequently makes headlines over rumblings that it's getting ready to erupt; one rumor earlier this year claimed bison were fleeing the park ahead of an eruption (a story Yellowstone officials debunked).

So, what are the odds a volcano will erupt in Yellowstone National Park this century?

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7 Aug

Giant Penguins Roamed Antarctica 40 Million Years Ago

A long time ago in a galaxy not-so-far away, massive penguins roamed wild.

The time: 37 to 40 million years ago.

The place: Antarctica.

New fossil evidence reveals that these now-extinct penguins stood more than six feet tall and weighed around 250 pounds. Palaeeudyptes klekowskii, dubbed the "colossus penguin," was far larger than today's biggest penguin, the Emperor penguin, which can grow to heights of about 3.7 feet.

Our friends at SourceFed break it down:

Modern penguins may be much smaller than their ancient ancestors, but their will to survive and thrive is extraordinary:

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17 Jul

Scientists Have Engineered Worms That Don't Get Drunk

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 2.13.22 PMNewly-created mutant worms don't get drunk, so what does this mean for humans?

Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have engineered worms that don't become intoxicated by alcohol, "the first example of altering a human alcohol target to prevent intoxication in an animal," corresponding author Jon Pierce-Shimomura said in a statement.

According to a press release from the university, "The scientists accomplished this feat by inserting a modified human alcohol target into the worms..."

"One important aspect of this modified alcohol target, a neuronal channel called the BK channel, is that the mutation only affects its response to alcohol. The BK channel typically regulates many important functions including activity of neurons, blood vessels, the respiratory tract and bladder. The alcohol-insensitive mutation does not disrupt these functions at all."

The Verge explains:

"Normally, when worms are put in a petri dish that contains alcohol, they become drunk. For a worm, this mean not being able to wiggle from side to side as much. It also means crawling much more slowly. But with the modified channel, the worms acted just as they did without the alcohol."

Next up, the scientists will test their methods on mice, possibly leading to the eventual development of a "James Bond drug" that would allow humans to drink as much as they'd like without getting drunk.

If you're not going to get drunk while drinking, you may as well use that red wine for a pretty ingenious life hack.

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10 Jul

410-Million-Year-Old Arachnid Brought Back to Life in Extraordinary New Video

A 410-million-year-old relative of modern-day spiders crawls again in a remarkable new video from scientists at The University of Manchester and Berlin's Museum für Naturkunde.

The team used fossils to recreate the ancient arachnid's movements on open-source software; the creature is now extinct but "300 to 400 million years ago, seem to have been more widespread than spiders," palaeontologist Dr. Russell Garwood said in a statement.

Watch the arachnid in action:

If this arachnid were still living today, might it face off with the ogre-faced spider? We can only speculate...

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7 Jul

Chimpanzees and Humans Have Something Big in Common: We Both Hunt and Eat Meat

Humans share over 90 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees and we share something else too: chimps and humans are the only "higher primates" that hunt and eat meat.

Mutant Planet returns tonight at 10/9c on Science Channel with a look at the unique creatures that call Africa home. The show opens by exploring the predator-prey relationship between red colobus monkeys and chimpanzees. Chimps love eating fruit and plants but, sometimes, they also have a taste for meat -- and red colobus are their favorite prey.

Recent research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that adult male chimpanzees regularly eat meat, although the bulk of the chimp diet comes from plants.

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