A family was forced to leave their home after finding very deadly Brazilian wandering spiders in a banana.
Consi Taylor had purchased a bundle of banana’s from a nearby Sainsbury’s store and upon eating it, she noticed blotches on the fruit. At first thought, she figured it was just mold, but after taking a closer look, Taylor realized the spot was actually some sort of cocoon holding dozens of spiders.
“I had a closer look and was horrified to see they were spiders. They were hatching out on the table, scurrying around on my carpet,” she told The Sun.
This banana spider is highly aggressive, highly venomous and certified as “the most toxic” by Guinness World Records. Taylor attempted to return the bananas to the Sainsbury’s supermarket where she’d bought them.
She initially was offered £10 ($16) for her trouble, but after sending a photo of the spider to a pest control specialist, Taylor, her husband Richard, and their two small children were forced to get out of the house and stay in a hotel for three days while it was being fumigated.
The family had to dry-clean all their clothes in which Sainsbury’s paid for as well as the hotel costs and pest control specialist. The store also issued an apology to her.
Consi said: “I was so scared. I hope I didn’t eat one but I can’t be sure.” She added, “I now have a phobia of buying bananas. We don’t know whether they’re all gone.”
Wikipedia reports, “Wandering spiders are so-called because they wander the jungle floor at night, rather than residing in a lair or maintaining a web. During the day they hide inside termite mounds, under fallen logs and rocks, and in banana plants (hence the “banana spider” nickname).”
These banana spiders are extremely toxic and can cause convulsions and in mammals if they bite them.
The spiders don’t usually target humans. The spider’s typical prey includes crickets, katydids, mantids, and other larger animals, including tree frogs and lizards.
The spiders, also known as Phoneutria, are indigenous to South America and parts of Central America such as Costa Rica.
Brazilian Wandering Spiders Found On Bananas
A family were forced to flee their home after an infestation of the world’s most venomous spiders via a bag of bananas from Sainsbury’s.
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Microplastic Found In Philippine Mussels—Risks Ocean Biodiversity
Green mussels or locally known as “tahong” or green mussels shells in the Philippines were tested 100% positive for microplastics. The recent findings follow with information gathered across different countries relating to global marine pollution.
The Philippine study was conducted on three samples across three different locations—two of which were tested positive for microplastics while the third set tested positive for “suspected microplastics.”
The study was conducted by Dr. Jose Isagani Janairo from the De La Salle University in coordination with the Philippine Department of Science and Technology (DOST). Furthermore, the researchers conducted the experiment using Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR).
“This is the first time we encounter analyzing samples with possible contamination of microplastic in the tahong or green mussels shells using FTIR,” said Dr. Araceli Monsada, director of the DOST-Advanced Materials Testing Laboratory.
Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy or FTIR is a widely used technology in detecting microplastics since fragments are too small that they are invisible to the naked eye. Other countries, such as the UK and China, also conducted studies regarding the matter.
The microplastic identified in the study were Polyethylene or PET. Janairo describes this type of plastic as a resource commonly used in making plastic bottles, textiles, and fabrics.
The discovery raises attention towards possible health risks from consuming mussels with microplastics in its system. Janairo says that it is likely that humans will digest microplastics while eating mussels.
From a different perspective, a study conducted last October 2018 where researchers gathered data on microplastics in mussels from coastal waters and supermarkets in the United Kingdom, discovered that coastal mussels sampled all contain microplastics.
Moreover, supermarket bought mussels for human consumption also all contain microplastics where 43% or 57% of debris items from coastal/supermarket mussels were microplastics. The researchers predicted consumers ingested 70 microplastic items in 100 g processed mussels.
Fortunately, the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources claim that the findings do not pose a threat to human health and remain to be safe for public consumption.
Roy Ortega chief of the BFAR Aquaculture Division urges that the recent findings on green mussels harvested in the Philippines are not something to be worried about unless there is a red tide alert.
However, microplastic levels found in mussels may not affect human health — it affects the health and survivability of the aquatic animal.
Microplastic is an emerging pollutant in marine environments. The continued human pollution in the ocean has led the filter-feeding organisms to consume plastic through tiny amounts. The problem could result in devastating impacts on ocean ecosystems, as well as a worldwide industry worth between 3 to 4 billion US dollars per year.
An article published in Science Daily tells that continued microplastic consumption by mussels affect their ability to attach themselves to their surroundings such as rocks.
The recent research, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, was led by Dr. Dannielle Green of Anglia Ruskin University and was carried out at the Portaferry Marine Laboratory in Northern Ireland.
The study found that increased microplastic consumption by mussels led to the aquatic animal to produce lesser byssal threads, which are thin fibers that help mussels attach themselves to rocks and ropes. This enables the mussels to defend itself against strong waves and tides.
Moreover, the study also noted that byssal threads functioned more than just enabling mussels to have a firm grip unto rocks. The byssal threads also help in creating extensive reefs that provide habitats for other marine animals.
Dr. Green, a senior lecturer in Biology at Anglia Ruskin University, said: “Tenacity is vital for mussels to form and maintain reefs without being dislodged by hydrodynamic forces. Our study showed that the presence of non-biodegradable microplastics reduced the number of byssal threads produced by the mussels, which likely accounts for the 50% reduction in their attachment strength.
“Byssal threads help mussels to form aggregations, increasing fertilisation success and making mussels more resistant to predation. A reduction in these byssal threads in the wild could lead to cascading impacts on biodiversity as well as reducing yields from aquaculture, as mussels are more likely to be washed away by waves or strong tides.”
“Our research also shows that even biodegradable microplastics can affect the health of mussels. Both biodegradable and non-biodegradable plastic are used in making single-use packaging, which if it becomes litter can break down into microplastics. Better recycling and an overall reduction of these materials can play an important role in helping to safeguard our marine environment.”
Seahorses Decline Due To Rampant Export
Due to its use in traditional Chinese medicine, smuggling of seahorses became rampant— leading to massive decline.
Despite the government’s efforts to implement trade bans, some countries still participate in vast illegal international trade of seahorses.
The United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement among governments to regulate international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants — CITES ensures that these practices do not threaten their survival.
Seahorses were the first marine fishes to be under such regulation; one of the aims of CITES is to prevent exports of seahorses and ensure its sustainability. Exporting seahorses are allowed if they have been sourced sustainably and legally — and necessary paperwork is required to prove it.
Co-author of the paper, Dr. Ting-Chun Kuo, said that “we found that 95% of dried seahorses in Hong Kong’s large market were reported as being imported from source countries that had export bans being in place, including Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, and Vietnam.”
“This is a remarkable discovery given the high proportion of global seahorse trade that goes through Hong Kong,” said Dr. Sarah Foster, who is the lead author. “Such illegal shipments lacked the required CITES records and permits. This means that many seahorse populations continue to be under heavy pressure without CITES oversight of sources and sustainability of the trade.”
Hong Kong is known as the world’s largest trading hub for dried seahorse. Foster added that analysis of global trade data from 2004 to 2017 revealed that Hong Kong was responsible for about two-thirds of all seahorse imports.
In a research project in Hong Kong earlier this year, investigators interrogated 220 traders about the origin of their seahorse stocks during 2016 and 2017. It was found that about 95% were imported from countries with export bans and that Thailand is the number one supplier — despite the country’s export ban status which started last January 2016.
Sheung Wan, which is located on the western side of Hong Kong Island, is the center of the trade in traditional Chinese medicine. In this ancient system that uses dried plants and animals for treatment of various illnesses, seahorses are popularly believed to have Viagra-like effects. In the district, seahorses are placed in boxes and glass jars and are sold in stores that line their streets. The retail price of each seahorse can be sold up to 40 Hong Kong dollars ($5).
Despite the lack of scientific studies or clinical trials, the consumption of seahorses is widespread in traditional Chinese medicine. Lixing Lao from the School of Chinese Medicine at the University of Hong Kong said that “according to Chinese medicine theory, the seahorse is nourishing … and gives the body more energy.” Dried seahorses are usually prepared as a tea and are commonly used to treat asthma, male sexual dysfunction, nocturnal enuresis, and pain, as well as labor induction.
The Chinese medicine shops in Sheung Wan are not breaking the law in selling seahorses. A spokesperson for the Hong Kong government’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said that CITES are designed to control import and export. However, the country’s law does not ban trade within its territory.
The AFCD has been taking measures to prevent illegal imports. Due to its size and appearance, these dried animals are easily smuggled across borders by camouflaging them with other dried seafood. In 2018, Hong Kong authorities seized 45 shipments of dried seahorses weighing a total of 470 kilograms — equivalent to about 175,000 seahorses.
Marine biologists and other experts say many species are under threat. The number of seahorses is decreasing every year since about 37 million seahorses are caught in the wild every year, and approximately 15-20 million are traded around the world. The rate of decline is exacerbated by the rampant smuggling of these dried animals due to its high demand. According to Project Seahorse, research carried out around the world shows that populations of at least 11 species have dropped by between 30% and 50% over the past 15 years.
The popular demand for seahorses can be linked to its importance in traditional Chinese medicine. But, even without the trade, methods of fishing alone could greatly affect the number of seahorses.
Newly Sequenced Spider Glue Pave Way For Biomaterials
Recently, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County postdoctoral fellow Sarah Stellwagen and her co-author Rebecca Renberg at the Army Research Lab have successfully published the complete sequences of genes that enable spiders to produce glue.
Spider glue is made of sticky silk and used by spiders to form webs for catching their prey. There are about 45,000 known species of spiders with each producing at least one type of silk. It is water soluble when it is still inside the spider’s body, then becomes insoluble to water after it has been produced outside the body. The unique characteristics of this material have piqued the interest of scientists.
Furthermore, the silk is also touted as the next breakthrough in making biomaterials due to its elasticity — making it flexible and able to absorb higher impact as well as it’s unusual tensile.
Because of the inimitable characteristic of silk being able to transform to a solid state from its liquid form inside the spider’s body, scientists find it challenging to reproduce. Scientists can recreate the liquid produced, but “we can’t replicate the process of going from liquid to solid on a large industrial scale,” Stellwagen says.
On the other hand, spider glue appears as a liquid, whether it is inside the spider’s body or outside—this may make it easier for scientists to produce spider glue in the laboratory compared to spider silk.
Throughout the years, researchers have been trying to unravel the secrets behind the spiders’ glue. Aside from being biodegradable and water-soluble, spider glue also remains sticky even after a long period and over many rounds of attachment and release.
Many species of spiders live in areas with humid conditions, yet surprisingly, spider glue still sticks firmly to wet surfaces. One goal of sequencing genes is for scientists to be able to create a synthetic version. These genes could be incorporated into the genes of other organisms such as bacteria and yeast to make the same glue.
Stellwagen sees a huge potential for spider glue to be used as organic pest control as it was, in the first place, produced to “capture insect prey.” Because it is an organic product, it could be applied without worrying about polluting the waterways compared to inorganic pesticides. It could be used on barn walls to protect livestock and sprayed on crops to prevent infestations. Also, it could be applied in areas where mosquito-borne illnesses are endemic.
Maximizing its features, scientists believe that there is a wide array of potentials for spider glue. It may lead to the development of bio-based adhesives and glues, referred to as “green glues,” which could replace petroleum-based products. Aside from organic pest control, it could be utilized as washable filters and mouse traps, among others.
Before this finding, the longest silk gene sequenced was approximately 20,000 base pairs. It took the researchers two years to completely sequence the genes. As what Stellwagen has said, “It ended up being this behemoth of a gene that’s more than twice as large as the previous largest silk gene.”
Aside from being remarkably long, the spider glue gene contained a lot of repetitive sequences in the middle, similar to the genes of spider silk. The numerous repetitive sequences posed a challenge to the researchers because of certain limitations in the methods they used. According to them, “It’s challenging. You’re picking a needle from a haystack.” Luckily, after two years of trying, they finally got the results that they needed to complete the sequence.
For many years, scientists have tried to sequence silk and glue genes. However, the task is challenging because of the length and repetitive structure of their sequences. “I’m super excited that I was able to finally figure out the puzzle because it was just so hard,” Stellwagen says. “Ultimately, we learned a lot, and I am happy to put that out there for the next person who is trying to solve some ridiculous gene.”
Currently, there are only about 20 complete genes that have been successfully sequenced, but there are a lot more genes out there that are still waiting to be sequenced. Thus, this recent finding has become a huge step in the sequencing or more silk and glue genes that could lead us to discover better and more efficient biomaterials.
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