World’s Biggest Spider Fossil

Scientists have unearthed the largest spider fossil ever found. The spider, a new species called Nephila jurassica, stretches about two inches from end to end. It was found in a fossil-rich rock formation near Daohugou village in northeastern China. The fossil dates back to the Middle Jurassic, about 165 million years ago, researchers reported in the April 20 Biology Letters. Spiders from the same family still exist today. Female giant golden orb-weaver spiders can grow to a whopping 4 or 5 inches in diameter (although males tend to be less than a quarter that size). These spiders are known for spinning huge webs of golden silk and have been known to trap bats and small birds. But Nephila have a surprisingly sparse fossil record. Before N. jurassica, the oldest Nephila spider fossil was about 34 million years old. The newly discovered fossil means that this spider family originated 35 million years earlier than thought, and that the genus Nephila is 130 million years older than previously suspected. The ancient spider probably originated somewhere on Pangaea, the supercontinent that once contained all seven modern continents. The spider probably spread before Pangaea broke up, the researchers say. Because modern golden orb spiders usually live in tropical climates, the fossil suggests that modern-day Daohugou was much warmer and more humid than it is today.” w/ photos

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World’s Oldest Readable Tablet

Marks on a clay tablet fragment found in Greece are the oldest known decipherable text in Europe, a new study says.  Considered “magical or mysterious” in its time, the writing survives only because a trash heap caught fire some 3,500 years ago, according to researchers. Found in an olive grove in what’s now the village of Iklaina (map), the tablet was created by a Greek-speaking Mycenaean scribe between 1450 and 1350 B.C., archaeologists say. The Mycenaeans — made legendary in part by Homer’s Iliad, which fictionalizes their war with Troy — dominated much of Greece from about 1600 B.C. to 1100 B.C. So far, excavations at Iklaina have yielded evidence of an early Mycenaean palace, giant terrace walls, murals, and a surprisingly advanced drainage system, according to dig director Michael Cosmopoulos. But the tablet, found last summer, is the biggest surprise of the multiyear project, Cosmopoulos said.” w/ photo

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Newborn Baby Kangaroo

“Amazing footage of a grey kangaroo giving birth and the development of a joey in his mother’s pouch. This clip from the BBC’s Life of Mammals looks at the development of different ways of giving birth that have developed in Australia.” — BBCEarth

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World’s Tallest Tree?

“It’s 369 feet high. That’s about twice the size of the Statue of Liberty (minus the foundation). I like this tree. The people who discovered it have never revealed its true location, which is somewhere in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. And though it’s got a nickname, “Stratosphere Giant,” it is no longer the giant. It’s been trumped. After its short four-year reign as World’s Tallest, two hikers, Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor, were deep in another section of another park, Redwood National Park (purchased in 1978 during the Carter administration) when they came across a new stand of trees, taller than anyone had ever seen before. The tallest of the tall is 379 feet 4 inches, 10 feet taller than the Giant. It’s now called Hyperion.” w/ photos + video

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91-Year-Old Bodybuilder

“My personal trainer and I are always getting into arguments about what part of my body needs the most work. I’m not happy with my abs – I have the remains of a small spare tyre – but she says my bottom is a catastrophe because it’s so flat. What we both agree on is that bodies can be remodelled, no matter how old you are. I was a very sickly child. From the age of six I had constant headaches and chronic tonsilitis. I became pale, sluggish and my growth was slow. I remember noticing one day that my best friend, who was a year younger than me, was slightly taller and that I was very upset about it. At 13, I had my tonsils removed and as my health improved, everything changed. I shot up and suddenly I was full of energy. I thought back to myself as a frail, sickly boy, and vowed never to be like that again. I took up boxing, rowing and rugby. Staying fit and strong became my priority. After school I trained to be a dentist, but sport remained an important hobby. I only once let myself go. As I crept into my 40s, I adopted my wife’s sedentary lifestyle. We spent a lot of time doing nothing. Inevitably, my blood pressure plummeted and one day I felt a sharp pain in my legs – only to discover the dark, earthworm-like patterns of varicose veins across my calves. It was my first brush with old age, and I didn’t like it. Immediately I resumed rowing to stay fit.” w/ photos

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