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back to article Little spider makes big-spider-puppet CLONE of itself out of dirt

Meet the adroit arachnid that makes a decoy “spider” in its web to mislead predators – and jiggles the strands like a puppet master to make the miniature marionette move. No, really, that's according to conservation biologist Phil Torres, anyway. His full story is here, the spider is apparently alive and well in the Amazon, and …

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I'd love to see a time lapse video of the whole process. If this isn't fake it'd be amazing to watch.

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I agree, not to see proof but just to see how it works. Things like this fascinate me.

The natural world is full of engineers, at all levels!

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Boffin

Agreed - 4/1 come late this year? It's not like we've never seen boffins pulling our collective legs before after all...

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Trollface

4/1?

"Agreed - 4/1 come late this year? It's not like we've never seen boffins pulling our collective legs before after all..."

What does the 4th of January have to do with anything?

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Headmaster

Processes akin to 'iterative engineering' perhaps, but not strictly 'engineers'. But hey, I'm loving your enthusiasm for it! : D

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Anonymous Coward

What's special abou the 4th of January?

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Re: What does the 4th of January have to do with anything?

Well played. Here, have an upvote from the other side of the pond!

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Fair nuff!

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Anonymous Coward

"What's special abou the 4th of January?"

Well, you know what they say about assumptions and not using the troll icon. American and international date formats (ISO 8601) are in the format of MM-DD, thus, stop being so pedantic, you know what he means.

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American and international date formats (ISO 8601) are in the format of MM-DD,

Even if that were true (the actual ISO8601 has YYYY-MM-DD), what has it to do with 4/1 ?

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@Richard Plinston

Missed the part where he said you knew what I meant and to stop being pedantic did you? Right then, sorted.

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ISO 8601

Upvote for saying what I suspected, that you have to have the YEAR in front. Not only that, but the got the poster delimiter wrong too (slash instead of dash).

For some reason it really bugs me to see web pages using the MM/DD format for things like, eg, release dates. You have to figure out if it's just another typical USA-ism. It's not just the date format, which I guess their entitled to, but the fact (calling it this based on prima fascie evidence) that they never bother to think that they might have readers outside the US or that they might do something different there.

Whenever there's any doubt I always try to spell dates out as YYYY-MM-DD (props to Japan for having this as their standard) or spell out the date ("21st Dec" or "Dec 21"). And of course for anything computer related (eg, file naming) big-endian YYYYMMDD is almost always the correct order (adding dashes to taste).

Anyway, what has all this got to do with 4?

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Nature has an infinite number of these spectaular creations that never fail to amaze.

Astronomy and deep space research are difficult to grasp or to understand because they are a little "abstract" but here we have something tangible, in your very own back yard if you like,which can be marvelled upon for a lifetime...

The quantity of information held within atoms/molecules/proteins/genes is just unbelievable.

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Happy

Brilliant

Now let's hope the creationists don't start using this as "proof" that evolution does not work

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JDX
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Re: Brilliant

Like when atheists point at parasitic wasps as 'proof' there is no God? Equally weak arguments.

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Re: Brilliant

"Like when atheists point at parasitic wasps as 'proof' there is no God? Equally weak arguments."

Agreed, I never said there is no God.

You would need a babelfish to prove that ;-)

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JDX
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Re: Brilliant

Indeed

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Brilliant

If only someone would prove that it works first, it would be easier.

Just because one view is popular among scientists it's not the same as proven. I've come to the conclusion it's just another religion among the others.

Simple exercise, calculate backwards the population growth till you reach e.g. Mitochondrial Eve. Then read the wiki site and ask your self what consequence should those hypotheses have in our history books if they where correct.

It's just another form of religion, nothing else.

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Stop the presses

Anonymous person on the internet comes to "conclusion".

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Re: Brilliant

@AC

Nothing is proven. Even stuff you think is. For example, the internal angles of a triangle do not add up to 180º, but they add up to [180º] * [a function of the area of the triangle]. However the discrepancy between this theory and the actual sum of the angles is less than the diameter of a hydrogen atom if the sides of the triangle are a lightyear in length. Therefore, this discrepancy between Plato's idea and reality does not prevent it being a VERY useful theory.

Similarly in the case of natural selection, it gives biologists a theory of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, which in turn informs health policy. Not quite replicable and repeatable, but close enough to Occam's Razor and Leary's Reality Tunnels to be getting on with.

Personally, I believe the world was created 8 minutes ago, and memories I have of the world before then have been placed there by His noodley appendages. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell's_teapot

Next!

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Re: Brilliant

Could you expand on your statement? I really don't get what you're implying.

Just calculating population growth backwards wouldn't get you anywhere near the correct population for a given year. Just try it to 1900 and tell me what number you get. (Hint: there were some large, unexpected population drops in that period)

I won't argue that Evolution doesn't have a belief system inherent in it; but then so does gravity. I believe (and hope) that gravity will continue to work today and tomorrow. But calling it a "religion" is hyperbole.

The key is that the theory of evolution (and gravity) is adjusted based upon what is observed, wereas religious beliefs are used to explain away observations that do not agree with the belief (e.g., "God works in mysterious ways").

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Re: Brilliant

>I believe (and hope) that gravity will continue to work today and tomorrow.

Yep, 'belief' is a way of making information processing efficient enough for our brains to handle it. If I had to build everything up from a priori sensations every time I made a decision, I wouldn't get anything done. Actually, I probably wouldn't be dissimilar to a newborn baby.

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Re: Ichneumon wasp

@JDX

Have a read of this, mate:

http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_nonmoral.html

The whole ichneumon wasp subject benefits from knowing the context of the arguments at the time (people being threatened by a lack of 'morality' in nature), and in this Professor Gould comments upon the human reactions to it, before concluding:

[It is amusing in this context, or rather ironic since it is too serious to be amusing, that modern creationists accuse evolutionists of preaching a specific ethical doctrine called secular humanism and thereby demand equal time for their unscientific and discredited views.] If nature is nonmoral, then evolution cannot teach any ethical theory at all. The assumption that it can has abetted a panoply of social evils that ideologues falsely read into nature from their beliefs — eugenics and (misnamed) social Darwinism prominently among them. Not only did Darwin eschew any attempt to discover an antireligious ethic in nature, he also expressly stated his personal bewilderment about such deep issues as the problem of evil. Just a few sentences after invoking the ichneumons, and in words that express both the modesty of this splendid man and the compatibility, through lack of contact, between science and true religion, Darwin wrote to Asa Gray,

"I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can."

[Stephen J Gould guest-stared in an episode of the Simpsons as himself, taking money money from Lisa to perform a test he then doesn't carry out, before running off laughing. He was not too proud to portray himself as a fraudster, when in fact he was far from it]

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Stop the presses

Stating that someone is anonymous does not refute his claims. If someone spoke the truth, it is true know matter who says it. As it turns out, it seems he wrote a rambling bunch of shit.

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Happy

Re: Stop the presses

@AC 13:24

Good point, quite true. But you posted it anon, so I don't trust you.

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Headmaster

...it is true NO matter who says it....

Sigh.

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Re: Brilliant

Another typo!

Its god works in mysterious wheys. This is to remain consistent with cheeses of nazareth and other marketing ploys of early xtians.

Blessed are the cheesemakers!

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JDX
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@Dave 126

Sorry Dave I've no idea what point you tried to make. I merely commented that atheists feel happy using 'gross' stuff from nature as evidence against a God, while lambasting anyone who suggests the 'pretty' stuff from nature is evidence for a God.

The downvotes suggest a preponderance of indoctrinated atheists who have learned atheism in exactly the same way many learn their religion... taking someone else's word for it rather than making up their own mind. I'm sure they'll take this post also as being pro-sky-fairy (a term which itself demonstrates an emotive rather than intellectual position on the subject) and downvote in the same way.

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Re: Brilliant

Ramen

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Eve and her sisters

The "Mitochondrial Eve" research isn't saying that their "Eve" didn't have a mother and sisters that we are also descended from and dependent on for some of our DNA. ME is just our shared ancestor on the female side all the way back.

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Re: Brilliant

Do they? How odd. Not one I've come across before.

Oh well, it's not like religion has a monopoly on idiots.

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Re: Brilliant

Like when atheists point at parasitic wasps as 'proof' there is no God? Equally weak arguments.

For some strange reason after reading this exchange I had the image of a little spider cackling maniacally and then booming out "Where is your God now?!"

I, for one, welcome out new marionette-wielding insect overlords, etc....

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Mushroom

Re: Brilliant

They're proof that if the creationists are right, then God's a bastard, nothing more.

I've never seen anyone claim they're proof that God does not exist. In fact most Atheists recognise that it's impossible to prove the non-existence of god (hence the cosmic teapot and flying spaghetti monster thought experiments)

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Holmes

Re: Brilliant

Indeed this is the point: it is not a "proof" that no concept one might label god can exist but the common idea that there's a infinitely loving god (i.e. the one Bible thumpers will bang on about) out there is weaker. It is simply the equivalent of saying, "you haven't even scratched the surface of the idea you think you know so much about to me."

Of course this is not exactly contraversial since theologians have been knocking that one back and forth since it began.

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Joke

I wonder if

they're just trying it out to see if it works?

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Re: I wonder if

...and the spiders are still awaiting a job offer from Jim Henson. The biologists didn't have the heart to tell the spiders that he is no longer with us.

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This post has been deleted by its author

Headsplode.

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Stop

"alive and well in the *Amazon*"

So is the clone just a clever tax avoiding scheme?

Taxpayers must know!!!1!!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "alive and well in the *Amazon*"

If they caught him, he wouldn't have a leg to stand on

...sorry

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What the spider is thinking

"It's ALIVE! They called me mad, but who's laughing now? BWAHAHAHAH!"

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What the spider is thinking

more like, 'what's that y'say, incey, you want to climb the water-spout?'

nay, nay, lad, th' rain'll come down, and wash ya owt.'

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Boffin

Re: What the spider is thinking

maybe the spider wanted to take a picture of it and email it to david thorne, in payment for a bill he owed?

or maybe he was just lonely and wanted a mate, same as humans do... http://www.realdoll.com

Happy Christmas Everyone

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Holmes

So, presumably

The spider knows what it looks like. It's fair to assume it knows what other spiders and creatures look like but the fact it would seem to be aware of its 'self' and its appearance is a step further.

Of course it might think spiders are scary and, not being aware that it is a spider itself, uses a fake spider as a scarecrow ;o)

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Re: So, presumably

I don't think it needs self-knowledge. Over the generations, it just creates random patterns, keeps the ones that work well and works from those - and unsurprisingly it happens that the one pattern that works well looks like a large spider. It's a nice example of evolution in the general sense.

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Re: So, presumably

Nope, natural selection means the spiders that make their dirt the most spider shaped are the ones less likely to be eaten, so the decoys become better with each generation, no mirrors or smoke required.

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JDX
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Re: So, presumably

I think that might be stretching the random mutations / natural selection mechanisms a bit too far. Suddenly a billion years doesn't quite seem like enough time!

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jai
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Re: So, presumably

but if the shape is chosen through trial and error, then that would suggest that arachnophobia isn't restricted to just human beings. the spider shape must scare the bejeebus out of creatures of all kinds the willies, not just my girlfriend

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Re: So, presumably

The textbook example of this happening in short time scale is that of moths in England over the historical period known as the Industrial Revolution. Moths (nocturnal, so inactive during daylight) would rest against the bark of trees, appropriately camouflaged to the species of tree they preferred. Soot from the burning of coal ('dark satanic mills') darkened the appearance of trees in many areas, and this placed a strong 'selection pressure' on generations of moths- favouring those that exhibited a mutation that made them darker. Pale moths would be readily seen by birds and promptly eaten.

This happened in decades, if not years. Moths, like spiders, have many, many offspring.

If billions of years seems to short a time-scale, please do bear in mind that there are other mechanisms in place- not least sexual reproduction. Sex not only allows beneficial mutations to be shared around, but, in the case of this spider, could also accelerate the process: If a female exhibits a preference for a male spider that makes decoys, her offspring will not only have the genes for that preference, but also the genes for the subject of that preference.

Also, mutations don't have to create everything 'from scratch' every time... say for example, an animal population had colonised a perfectly cave system... there would no longer be a selection pressure to retain eyes. The genes for the eyes wouldn't be 'deleted', but rather they would no longer be preserved against random mutations- and over many generations the eyes would diminish and disappear. These mutations might be small, but would prevent the eyes from developing. An analogy would be changing a few bytes on your HDD's table of contents that would render it unreadable- but most of the HDD's data is still there. Should this blind animal population find itself in an environment with light, a few mutations over generations might reinstate eyes- the 'building blocks' are still there. By the same process, 'throwbacks' occasionally occur, such as humans with vestigial tails, or Julius Ceasar's five-toed war-horse.

A mutation might also be along the lines of changing 'Goto 10' to 'Goto 20', and thus place, say, an enzyme in the 'wrong' place. It is thought such a mutation replicated an enzyme found in the eye (to break down foreign substances) into the digestive tract of bovines, allowing them to break down cellulose and thus digest grass.

It is endlessly fascinating, and I would recommend Stephen J Gould over Richard Dawkins should you want to read more.

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Re: So, presumably

@jai

Your girlfriend's instincts are good. Though here in the UK there are no spiders that can do us serious harm, that is not true of much of the world. She, like all of us, have ancestors that have lived amongst spiders since before we were small furry things.

Snakes, similarly- there are many species that can harm us if we threaten them, and our instincts 'know' this. In some people (Indiana Jones, for example) this fear is stronger, and harder for our concious minds to overcome.

I've heard it said that the sale of lion poo is prohibited in the UK after the poll tax riots when protesters used it to scare police horses. Horses might not have lived on the continents as lions for a few thousands of years, but their instincts tell them that this smell is associated with something to be avoided.

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