Spiders are ancient animals with a history going back many millions of years. They have always been with us, an ancient source of fear and fascination. They are abundant and widespread and are natural controllers of insect populations. Wherever you live, you're always close to a spider.

Spiders are arachnids not insects, but both spiders and insects belong to the largest group of animals on Earth, the arthropods - animals with hard external skeletons and jointed limbs (greek arthro = joint, podos = footed).

A few spiders are so small and live such hidden lives that most of us never see them. Others are enormous. Some of the smallest spiders in the world are anapid spiders, sometimes called armoured spiders because of the cuticular plates on their pinhead-sized bodies. Small spiders like anapids are usually found in damp, cool habitats like forest leaf litter and moss because their small bodies can lose water rapidly in dryer conditions. The largest spiders in the world include the South American Goliath Tarantula, some so big their legs can span a dinner plate. Such spiders may take decades to reach such a size. However, spider size is limited, partly because their respiratory physiology becomes less efficient at very large sizes.

Spiders were among the earliest animals to live on land. Despite this their fossil record is relatively poor. They probably evolved about 400 million years ago from thick-waisted arachnid ancestors that were not long emerged from life in water. The first definite spiders, thin-waisted arachnids with abdominal segmentation and silk producing spinnerets, are known from fossils like Attercopus fimbriungus. This spider lived 380 million years ago during the Devonian Period, more than 150 million years before the dinosaurs.

Most of the early segmented fossil spiders belonged to the Mesothelae, a group of primitive spiders with the spinnerets placed underneath the middle of the abdomen (rather than at the end as in 'modern' spiders). They were probably ground dwelling predators, living in the giant clubmoss and fern forests of the mid-late Palaeozoic, where they were presumably predators of other primitive arthropods (like cockroaches, giant silverfish, slaters and millipedes). Silk may have been used simply as a protective covering for the eggs, a lining for a retreat hole, and later perhaps for simple ground sheet web and trapdoor construction.

As plant and insect life diversified so also did the spider's use of silk. Spiders with spinnerets at the end of the abdomen (Opisthothelae) appeared more than 250 million years ago, presumably promoting the development of more elaborate sheet and maze webs for prey capture both on ground and foliage, as well as the development of the safety dragline.

A 300 million year old, half metre long, fossil arachnid, Megarachne servinei, was originally described as a spider, but is now thought more likely to represent another type of spider-like ancient arachnid. Its unique features include the enormous size, massive shovel-like jaws and ribbed, shield-like covering over the abdomen. An arachnid of this size must have fed on large prey like cockroaches and giant millipedes. But why did this massive predator need such an impressively armoured body - were there even bigger arachnid predators about?
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Beautiful Flowers 2

Here are more beautiful wallpapers from Erin.
Thanks again! :)
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Pahoehoe Fountain

P.S. - Thanks Mike.
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Porn sparks panda baby boom in China

CHIANG MAI, Thailand - After years of painstaking research, scientists say they have unleashed a baby boom among one of the world’s most beloved but endangered animals, China’s giant panda.
A bit of panda porn has helped too, they say.
“It works,” enthuses Zhang Zhihe, a leading Chinese expert, about showing uninitiated males DVDs of fellow pandas mating.

It is one of many techniques tried over the decades to get captive pandas — notoriously poor breeders — to do it, and do it right. The efforts to understand and simulate conditions for mating and raising cubs have paid off in China, the panda’s native habitat. Now comes the next test: getting the magic to work outside China.
The big day will come in January, when Prasertsak Buntragulpoontawee hopes to bring off a successful mating between male Chuang Chuang and partner Lin Hui in this northern Thailand city.
The audio-visual approach “is the same idea as chimpanzees seeing people smoke and then copying it,” says the Thai researcher.
Zhang, director of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, attributes this year’s record high births not to any single breakthrough but to an accumulation of research on panda biology, nutrition and genetics while “trying to imitate nature better.”
The result, by his count: In the first 10 months of this year 31 cubs were born in captivity in China, of which 28 survived. That’s up from 12 births in 2005 and just nine in 2000. Of this year’s births, 14 came through natural breeding, while artificial insemination or a combination of the two produced the rest.

No cubs were born among the roughly 20 pandas outside China, but sperm from Atlanta Zoo’s Yang Yang yielded an offspring for Lun Lun in Chengdu, China, Zhang told a conference here of 140 panda experts.
JoGayle Howard, an animal reproduction specialist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., said the goal of raising the captive breeding population to 300 from the current 220 is rapidly being reached. This would prevent inbreeding, widen the genetic pool and enable more captive animals to re-enter the wild, where the panda population is estimated at 1,600 to 3,000.
Howard said the biggest challenges in panda breeding are an extremely high rate of incompatibility and the very narrow window of opportunity — females are ready to mate for as few as 48 hours a year.
“At first people thought that you just put two animals together and they would figure it out. But it didn’t turn out that way,” she said. “Now we know how to take care of the panda better. We’ve really made progress. But we’re still learning a lot of even basic things.” Captive animals used to lack proper socialization; with no companions around, when the male and female met for breeding “they just freaked out and fought,” Howard said. Now enclosures are bigger and contain more animals.
There’s also a push to keep cubs with their mothers longer, for up to two years, to give them more natural sex education.
Scientists have also learned more about sex and aggression. In the wild, Howard explains, females in heat will climb a tree while suitors below fight for her. In captivity, with no male rivals around, pandas often take out their aggression on the female.
Adds Zhang: “In the wild they have their own choices when mating. But when we breed them in captivity it’s like taking two human beings and forcing them to mate.”
But despite the advances, there are still only about 15 captive male adults which breed naturally. Second best is artificial insemination, and after years of study frozen semen can now be shipped around the world and applied according to a comprehensive genetic database.
Prasertsak is prepared to use both methods as he readies his couple for mating at Chiang Mai Zoo, which has rented the animals from China for research and tourism purposes.
The pressure is on. Last year Lin Hui showed promising symptoms but they turned out to be a pseudo-pregnancy, not unusual among pandas.
Will the blue movies help?
Opinions differ on the visuals, but Zhang and Prasertsak agree on the sound track.
“It’s the sounds of breeding that stimulate them,” Zhang said. “Pandas are just like human beings. They understand everything.”


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3 Stages In A Men's Life




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Nomura's Jellyfish

Nomura's jellyfish (Nemopilema nomurai) is a very large Japanese jellyfish. Known in Japanese as echizen kurage (エチゼンクラゲ), it is one of the largest species of jellyfish.

Growing up to 2m (6 ft 7 in) in diameter and weighing up to 200kg (440 lb), Nomura's Jellyfish reside primarily in the waters between China and Japan, primarily centralized in the Yellow Sea and East China Sea where they spawn.

While stings of this large jellyfish are painful, they are not usually toxic enough to cause serious harm in humans. However, the jellyfish's sting has been reported as fatal in some cases by causing a build-up of fluid in the lungs. As a precaution, fisherman encountering these jellyfish wear eye protection and protective clothes. To date there have only been eight reported deaths from the Nomura's sting.

In an attempt to utilize the jellyfish in a productive manner, coastal communities in Japan are doing their best to promote jellyfish as a novelty food, sold dried and salted.
Students in Obama, Fukui (Japan) have managed to turn them into tofu, and jellyfish collagen is reported to be beneficial to the skin.
The jellyfish population has become such a substantial problem for Japan that it has led the government to form a committee to combat the problem.

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Sometimes It's Hard To Stay Awake

Funny Animal Video
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Run Pig, Run!

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Mountains In The Lake

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Time Lapse of Cicada Moulting

Interesting movie. I just love time-lapse photography of these kinds of phenomena.
Click on picture.
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Where Is My Dog?

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The Loma Prieta Earthquake, 1989

The Loma Prieta earthquake occurred on October 17, 1989, in the greater San Francisco Bay Area in California at 5:04 p.m. local time and measured 6.9 on the Moment magnitude scale (surface-wave magnitude 7.1). It occurred during the 1989 World Series, which happened to match up the Bay Area's two Major League Baseball teams, the Oakland Athletics against the San Francisco Giants. The earthquake lasted for 15 seconds. Its epicenter was at geographical coordinates 37.04° N 121.88° W south-southwest of Loma Prieta Peak in the unincorporated area of Aptos. This location, in the Santa Cruz Mountains' Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, is about ten miles (16 km) northeast of the city of Santa Cruz, California. The focus point was at a depth of 16.79 km, or 10 miles.

The Loma Prieta was a major earthquake, and caused severe damage as far as 50 miles away from its epicenter; most notably in San Francisco, Oakland, the San Francisco Peninsula, and in areas closer to the epicenter in the communities of Santa Cruz, the Monterey Bay, Watsonville, and Los Gatos. Most of the major property damage in the more distant areas resulted from liquefaction of soil used over the years to fill in the waterfront and then built upon.

The magnitude and distance of the earthquake from the severe damage to the north were surprising to geotechnologists. Subsequent analysis indicates that the damage was likely due to reflected seismic waves - the reflection from well-known deep (about 15 miles) discontinuities in the Earth's gross structure.

There were 57 deaths directly caused by the earthquake, and six more deaths were ruled to be indirectly caused by the temblor[1]. In addition, there were 3,757 injuries as a result of the earthquake. The highest concentration of fatalities, 42, occurred in the collapse of the Cypress Street Viaduct on the Nimitz Freeway (Interstate 880), where a double-decker portion of the freeway collapsed, crushing the cars on the lower deck. One 50-foot (15 m) section of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge also collapsed, causing two cars to fall to the deck below, leading to the single fatality on the bridge. The bridge was closed for repairs for a month and one day, reopening on November 18. While the bridge was closed, ridership on Bay Area Rapid Transit and ferry services soared, along with traffic levels on nearby bridges such as the Richmond-San Rafael and the Golden Gate.

The quake also caused an estimated $6 billion in property damage, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history at the time. It was the largest earthquake to occur on the San Andreas Fault since the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Private donations poured in to aid relief efforts and on October 26, President George H.W. Bush signed a $3.45 billion earthquake relief package for California.

The Loma Prieta earthquake irrevocably changed the San Francisco Bay Area's transportation landscape. Not only did the quake force seismic retrofitting of all San Francisco Bay Area bridges, it caused enough damage that some parts of the region's freeway system had to be demolished. In some cases, the freeways in question had never been completed, terminating in mid-air; in that regard, the quake provided the impetus to deal with regional transportation problems that had gone largely unsolved for decades.

An automobile lies crushed under the third story of this apartment building in the Marina District. The ground levels are no longer visible because of structural failure and sinking due to liquefaction.

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In The Deep

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Awwwwwwwwwww, Cute Animals

Wow, these pictures are a really effective stress remover! :)
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