Sorry, Prey. Black Widows Have Surprisingly Good Memory

Black widows must despise Clint Sergi. While working on his PhD in biology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Sergi spent his time designing little challenges for spiders—which often involved rewarding them with tasty dead crickets, or confounding them by stealing the crickets away. “The big question that motivated the work was just wanting to know what is going on inside the minds of animals,” he says.

Biologists already know spider brains aren’t like human brains. Their sensory world is geared for life in webs and dark corners. “Humans are very visual animals,” says Sergi. “These web-building spiders have almost no vision. They have eyes, but they’re mostly good for sensing light and motion.” Instead, he says, a black widow’s perception comes mainly from vibrations, kind of like hearing. “Their legs are sort of like ears that pick up the vibrations through the web.”

And in terms of cognition, biologists know

This Ancient Grain-Sowing Method Could Be Farming’s Future

Today, Ethiopian farmers are feeling the pressure to grow modern monoculture crops, thanks in part to a national push to become an agricultural powerhouse. “If you export grains, you want them to be uniform,” says McAlvay. “The global market wants a certain type of wheat for their Wonder Bread. A mixture of three varieties of wheat and four varieties of barley with some other things thrown in really doesn’t make the cut.”

Tesfanesh Feseha, a master’s student in botany who served as a field translator during McAlvay’s interviews with more than 100 farmers, says that with the national embrace of monocultures, new farmers aren’t learning the art of cultivating grain mixtures. “Young farmers didn’t even know the mixtures we were looking for,” she says.

Zemede, who collaborates with McAlvay but was not directly involved in the new paper, remains optimistic. “[The push for] modernization is strong. It comes with technology

Ukraine’s Biggest Nuclear Plant Needs a Safety Zone

Until Ukraine and Russia reach an agreement, the plant remains in danger. “There’s no question: There should not be any military operations at the plant or in the vicinity of the plant,” says Ed Lyman, senior global security scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and coauthor of the book Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster. But, he continues, while neither military’s soldiers have deliberately fired on the plant, anything can happen in the fog of war. A misfired weapon or a missile shot down in the wrong place could exacerbate an already dangerous situation. 

When Russia invaded, Zaporizhzhya—which provides a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity—still had four out of its six reactors online. But after the conflict destroyed all but one of the plant’s external lines to the local power grid, plant operators shut down one, then two, and then three of the reactors this summer.

The plant has

The World Is Drowning in Plastic. Here’s How It All Started

In the early 2010s, brands began phasing out the plastic microbeads they’d been adding to toothpaste and face scrubs to boost their scrubbing power. Some of these products contained hundreds of thousands of microplastics, which washed off of your face and out to sea. It turned out that consumers weren’t particularly happy when they realized what was happening—President Barack Obama made that displeasure into law by signing the Microbead-Free Waters Act in 2015, four decades after microplastic scrubbers were patented in the cosmetics industry.

“In that bill, it was only for wash-off cosmetics, and that was mostly the facial scrubs,” says Marcus Eriksen, cofounder of the Gyres Institute, a nonprofit that’s tackling plastic pollution. “But then in cosmetics, there are tons and tons of shredded microplastic particles used as fillers, things to keep stuff on your face for a long time.” Eyeliners, mascaras, lipsticks—they’re still loaded with tens of thousands

After Hurricane Ian’s Floods, the Flesh-Eating Bacteria

In September, Hurricane Ian smashed into the southwest coast of Florida, bringing with it a storm surge that reached 13 feet in the coastal town of Fort Myers. Warm, brackish Gulf water inundated homes and businesses as well as sewers, wastewater pumps, and septic tanks. As the torrential winds and rain mixed everything together into a giant slurry, a highly adaptable microscopic creature gained a foothold: a “flesh-eating” bug called Vibrio vulnificus.

Twenty-eight people were infected with this bacteria, which can quickly degrade skin cells, leach iron from blood, and lead to multiple organ failure. Seven of the infected died. “When you’re in a tropical environment with standstill water that’s very contaminated with debris and whatever else is baking in the sun—that is the perfect cocktail for this bacteria to develop,” says James Williams, an environmental specialist at the Florida Department of Health.

Cases dropped off as floodwaters receded,