Hidden housemates in Oz

golden huntsman
Click to enlargeBeregama aurea, Golden HuntsmanLinda Rayor

You’re driving along and you open the sun visor. You’re cleaning at home and bump a painting hanging on the wall. Suddenly, out runs a huge, hairy spider. Australia’s huntsman spiders are the stuff of myths and nightmares.

But these are also the most interesting of their family, and deserve their place in the pantheon of Australian wildlife…

First, let’s talk numbers: there are currently 1,207 species of huntsman spider in the Family Sparassidae, out of the total 45,881 described spider species worldwide. It is estimated that there are 155 huntsman spider species found throughout Australia.

Of those, approximately 95 species are found only in Australia. All of these are probably descended from a single common ancestor that immigrated from Papua New Guinea or elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Huntsmen are big spiders…many of the endemics are sizeable animals that can weigh 1-2 grams and may be as big as the palm of your hand.

The world’s second largest species, the massive Golden Huntsman (Beregama aurea) from tropical Queensland, weighs over 5.5 grams. An adult’s forelegs may stretch 15 cm, and they lay egg sacs the size of golf balls…

All huntsman spiders are active at night, emerging from their retreats to forage for insects and other invertebrates, and occasionally small vertebrates. They are ambush predators, generally sitting and waiting for prey to come close before running and leaping on it…

During the day, most huntsman prefer to rest in retreats under bark, crevices, or other protected areas. This is why so many people encounter the spiders under the sun visors of their cars or behind curtains in their homes, because those are perfect tight spaces for a sleepy spider…

What should you do if you do find a big spider in your car or living room? First, get a grip! She isn’t going to hurt you.

Second, find a take-away container, scoop the spider into the container and release it outside. Huntsman spiders almost never bite humans since they rely on speed to escape most predators. When they do bite, most bites are quick defensive nips without injecting venom…

Treasure your huntsman spiders. They deserve a place alongside koalas and kangaroos as iconic Australian wildlife.

Really nice article and this is only a small portion. Click the link up top in this post and read the whole thing. Interesting, entertaining, stuff worth learning.

We get Golden Orb Weaver spiders here in New Mexico that think they’re as big as a Huntsman – but, they really aren’t. They are just as pretty. You really should get to know all your housemates.

Thanks, Honeyman

Domino’s to test autonomous pizza delivery robot

dominos-dru-delivery-robot-4.png
Unboxing the prototype

Domino’s has announced its own autonomous pizza delivery machine. Built on military technology, DRU (Domino’s Robotic Unit) can keep pizza hot and drinks cold on the way to your house and is set to hit the streets of Australia in prototype form for testing.

Designed in Domino’s DLAB innovation hub in Brisbane, Australia, DRU is built to handle short-range deliveries with very little human intervention, has a heated compartment to keep your capricciosa warm, and a chiller to keep your drinks cool, inbuilt GPS for navigation and a bunch of sensors to try to stop it from running into things on the pavement. Domino’s says it is working with the government to build a legal framework in which it can start testing DRU in the real world…

DRU is part of a broader automation movement in the fast food industry that seeks to replace human workers with cheaper, more efficient and oftentimes more effective machines. And while Domino’s has made fun of the concept in the past, the company swears that DRU is no April Fool’s joke.

In a civilized, urban society this could work fine. Between income inequity, ignorance and greed, I can see the average neighborhood anarchist-cum-gangbanger looking at one of these as a rolling piggybank with edibles. Smash-and-grab on wheels.

OTOH, our leading contributor down under in Oz suggests a contender for useful robot employment.

Dalek-Dr-Who

Thanks, Honeyman

Octopus makes own quicksand to build burrow on sea floor

The southern sand octopus has taken hide-and-seek to a whole new level. It shoots jets of water into the seafloor creating quicksand that allows it to vanish.

A skilled architect, the octopus can build a mucus-lined home – complete with a chimney –20 centimetres down into the seabed, where it holes up during the day. It only emerges from its underground burrow at night to crawl over the seafloor and snack on small crustaceans…

Other octopuses, including Octopus berrima bury themselves under a thin layer of sediment by digging into it with sweeping arm movements. But because they need direct access to the water column to breath, they remain close to the sediment surface, with their funnel sticking out.

The sand octopus has a rather different technique – it actively digs deeper though the soft sand and constructs an actual subsurface burrow, says Jasper Montana of the University of Melbourne. “This is the first known cephalopod to burrow,” he says.

Montana and his team first caught the octopus in the act of burrowing in 2008 when they were scuba diving at night in Port Philip Bay, south of Melbourne, Australia. When they shone a light on the octopus, the startled animal spread out its arms and repeatedly injected high-powered jets of water into the sediment using its funnel. This caused grains of sand to be temporarily suspended in water, making it like sandy water…

The team later collected some specimens from the wild and put five of them in an aquarium designed to show what happened once the octopus was underneath the sediment…

They found that the animal used its arms and mantle to push the sand away and form a burrow. It also extended two arms to the surface to create a narrow chimney to breathe through. Finally, it secured the walls of its new home with a layer of mucus that kept the grains of sand together so the entire thing maintained its shape.

Octopuses rock!

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Copper parks in tall grass after stopping motorcycle — car goes up in flames

A witness to the intense fire said the police officer pulled over a speeding motorbike rider at the intersection of Wivenhoe-Somerset Drive and Northbrook Parkway near Mount Glorious but when the bike took off again, it looked like the officer tried to give chase.

“Next minute the bloody cop car drives down the bank,” truck driver David Hunn said…

The Logan resident, who’d been out for a ride on his own motorbike, said the bike rider had stopped about 50 metres up the road.

He said by the time the police officer had “scrambled” up the bank and yelled at the rider to stop, there was smoke coming from the long grass under the unmarked car, likely from the hot exhaust pipe.

The 65-year-old said it was only minutes before flames had completely engulfed the car, which was eventually left a blackened shell.

“It was long grass so the car was basically nestled in the grass,” Mr Hunn said.

“It just caught fire straight away basically.”…

Mr Hunn described the stretch of road coming down from Mount Glorious as “a racetrack at the best of times” and accused both the motorcyclist and policeman of driving like maniacs.

“The bike came around me and I thought ‘shit he’s going quick’,” he said,

“The next minute, the bloody car came past me with no siren on. He was going like a bat out of hell.”

Mr Hunn said according to the rider’s friends they were going as much as 180km/h and the police car was catching up with the bike.

He said the officer caught up with the bike at the T-intersection, where he cut him off and attempted to block him in…

“If he’d kept the speed down a bit and saw which way it was going, he could have had the posse out and waiting for him because a bloody radio’s quicker than a bloody motorbike.”

A mate of mine down in Oz sent me this. Don’t know how he stopped laughing long enough to press the send key.

Yes, he’s a biker.

Thanks, Honeyman

Sheepdog guardians keep this colony of Fairy Penguins safe


Click to enlargeJJ Harrison

They’ve been our best friends for centuries, and in more recent years, dogs have proved they can also be our allies in conservation, from sniffing out endangered species to fighting wildlife crime. One place where they’ve notched up a major conservation victory is on a small island off the Australian coast, where a colony of tiny penguins has been brought back from the brink – a success story that’s now inspired a multimillion-dollar movie that opens in the country this week.

Middle Island, a rocky outcrop off the coast of Victoria, is best known for its avian inhabitants: it’s home to a colony of the world’s smallest penguins. Just 33 centimetres tall (13 inches), the little penguin – or fairy penguin, if you prefer (of course you do!) – tips the scales at only around one kilogram.

While the birds spend most of their lives at sea, they do come ashore when breeding season rolls round – and that’s where Middle Island’s residents began running into trouble. The few hundred metres that separate the island from the mainland are not much of an obstacle for hungry foxes who proved quite capable of crossing the distance at low tide for the promise of an easy penguin meal.

With the predators picking off the defenceless birds, populations began to plummet dangerously: by 2005, what was once a colony numbering in the hundreds had been left with fewer than ten survivors.

Enter “Oddball”. The maremma sheepdog was initially bought by a mainland farmer whose chickens were being targeted by the very same enemy. “I used to spend my nights up with a rifle shooting foxes. One night I noticed the neighbour’s dog barking and the light went on in my head. I realised he was barking at the same thing I was trying to shoot,” the farmer, Allan Marsh, told ABC last year.

Marsh decided to get a dog of his own, and Oddball soon proved to be a pro at keeping foxes away from the farm. After a series of fortunate events, the sheepdog ended up on Middle Island, where wildlife officials hoped her chicken-guarding skills could work to keep the penguins safe too

Oddball first set paw on Middle Island in 2006, when the penguin colony was on the verge of total collapse. Since then, other maremmas have followed in her footsteps, and the Middle Island Maremma Project has proved a major conservation success. Fox attacks have stopped entirely and penguin numbers have been recovering, with around 180 birds at last count.


Click to enlarge

Conservation success + dogs = enough to make my heart happy for quite a spell.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Breakthrough in cost and efficiency in “artificial leaf” technology


Only symbolism, folks – but, you get the idea🙂

New research out of Melbourne has broken records and brought emission-less hydrogen energy a step closer to commercial production. Thom Mitchell reports.

Researchers at Monash University have published a breakthrough paper detailing their success in creating hydrogen and oxygen from water and sunlight in a process which artificially mimics photosynthesis, the source of most of the world’s energy, including the fossil fuels that currently dominate energy markets.

The research represents a new level of efficiency in this so-called ‘artificial leaf’ technology which scientists say could become commercially viable within a few years because researchers have managed to produce a record-high level of hydrogen using nickel as a type of conductor, rather than more expensive precious metals.

“The reason this technology has not been at the forefront [of the discussion around renewable energy] is that it’s not that efficient,” said Professor Douglas MacFarlane, one of the researchers behind the paper…“There are better catalysts and materials that people have been working on for probably 10 or 15 years, but what we’ve done is show that you can actually do this with cheaper materials that are [still, and in this case particularly, efficient ].”

The process the researchers followed involves taking water, sunlight, and some conventional wiring, and using them to produce oxygen and the hydrogen that can then be converted into a range of fuels, including electricity, and stored with relative ease…

“The idea of making a fuel directly from sunlight is rapidly becoming practical at a household and petrol station level, and even at the solar farm level.”…

‘Artificial leaf’ devices are considered to be effective if 10 per cent of the solar energy captured is converted into hydrogen and earlier efforts had resulted in a conversion rate of around 18 per cent.

However they required more expensive and rarer metals for use as catalysts, whereas the Monash researchers were able to achieve a conversion rate of solar energy to hydrogen of around 22 per cent using nickel instead.

And hydrogen is a simple clean-burning gas. Storable, usable in fuel cells, a replacement for fossil fuels and absent the storage questions required of direct conversion of solar energy to electricity.

The kind of Green Science bound to piss off fossil fuel-reactionaries like the Koch Brothers even more than the EPA or James Hansen do.

Thanks, Honeyman

Brick-laying robot can build the structure of a full-sized house in two days

As robots get smarter, cheaper and more versatile, they’re taking on a growing number of challenges – and bricklaying can now be added to the list. Engineers in Perth, Australia, have created a fully working house-building machine that can create the brick framework of a property in just two days, working about 20 times faster than a human bricklayer.

Named Hadrian (after Hadrian’s Wall in the UK), the robot has a top laying speed of 1,000 bricks per hour, which works out as the equivalent of about 150 homes a year. Of course there’s no need for the machine to sleep, eat or take tea breaks either, giving it another advantage over manual laborers…

“The Hadrian reduces the overall construction time of a standard home by approximately six weeks,” Fastbrick Robotics CEO Mike Pivac told Gizmag. “Due to the high level of accuracy we achieve, most other components like kitchens and bathrooms and roof trusses can be manufactured in parallel and simply fitted as soon as the bricklaying is completed…”

“The machine will fill the void that exists due to shrinking numbers of available bricklayers, whose average age is now nearly 50 in Australia,” he says. “[Hadrian] should attract young people back to bricklaying, as robotics is seen as an attractive technology.”

Surely beats the crap out of the romance of making adobes. 🙂

How a cancer-fake hustler fooled folks – with lots of helpers


Belle Gibson, founder of The Whole Pantry app, and son Oliviersaid the caption at news.com.au

Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin has a powerful post up about the news that Belle Gibson, a popular young Australian wellness blogger, has admitted to lying about having cancer. Gibson had convinced many people that she had “cured her terminal brain cancer by avoiding gluten and sugar,” as Jardin puts it — a claim that deserves to be treated with about as much merit as a report of a unicorn sighting. Gibson had used her story to help drum up her media profile and push her nutrition app, the Whole Pantry (the planned Apple Watch version of which disappeared from the app store about a month ago).

As Jardin, who has herself battled breast cancer, points out, we’ve entered the mass-shaming part of the story, with the predictable torrents of internet anger. It’s an understandable response, but it leaves out the complicity of many media outlets that should have known better.

Because sure, Gibson was embraced by many of the usual suspects — small health and wellness blogs with shaky-at-best understandings of science and bones to pick with processed foods and “Western medicine” — but a bigger part of the reason she was able to carve out a successful niche in the wellness world was that that mainstream outlets, particularly in her native Australia, offered her fawning coverage.

“The Whole Pantry founder inspires in the face of terminal cancer,” enthused a headline on news.com.au, a major outlet. “The Whole Pantry came out of Gibson’s determination not to be crushed by her illness and to find a way to help people like herself,” wrote the IT columnist at another. “The 25-year-old has turned her cancer diagnosis into a positive, believe it or not,” gushed an Australian Yahoo! TV host. Australian Women’s Health called her a “health game changer.” Thanks in part to all this attention, Gibson was able to expand her popularity to the States. As Jardin points out, Cosmopolitan even gave her a Fun Fearless Female award in the social media category.

It’s not reasonable to expect every single employee at every single outlet to be completely up to date on all the latest nutritional science, of course. But outlets do have at least some responsibility to not mislead their audiences. Gibson’s claims were, on their face, so outlandish that offering them a megaphone did real harm to readers and viewers: not just by encouraging them to follow a charlatan, but by potentially nudging them away from real, established treatments for diseases that can frequently be fatal. Gibson’s a liar, but she was only able to become a successful liar because so many people amplified her story without checking it first.

Bringing the question back to one we often confront: money-making journalism – the real deal – professionals who don’t do the rigorous fact-checking that is supposed to be required. Part incompetence; but, part laziness.

A PR release drops into your email inbox. Written well enough, the journalist and editor do their bit of tidying up and off it goes. I realize they’re conditioned by a fawning relationship with government and corporate overlords; but, that ain’t good enough. Cripes, at least look around, ask around online.