The week's discoveries feature surprises about penguins, spiders, and humpback whales:
- What Killed Jane Austen? New Clue Emerges: The cause of Jane Austen's death at age 41 in 1817 has been an enduring mystery of the literary world. Now, a trio of eyeglasses found in Austen's desk suggests an intriguing clue. The spectacles of increasing strength indicate Austen suffered from progressive eye problems, and one theory holds that slow-growing cataracts might have been caused by arsenic poisoning. The source may have been a seemingly benign one.
Spiders Eat More Meat Than Humans: When it comes to eating meat, spiders do their share—and then some. Zoologists report in the journal the Science of Nature that spiders kill between 400 million and 800 million tons of prey (mostly insects) every year. The planet's 7.5 billion humans, by comparison, consume 400 million tons of meat and fish a year. It's all about population density, and the numbers are astonishing.
- New Habit of Humpbacks Puzzles Researchers: Scientists have long considered humpback whales to be loners, but they've spotted the giants three times now engaging in previously unseen behavior: gathering in feeding groups of up to 200. It's anyone's guess as to why, but one explanation being floated is surprisingly simple.
- Cystic Fibrosis Patients Live Longer in Canada: Canadians with cystic fibrosis live longer than their US counterparts, and the difference is anything but slight. The ultimate bottom line? Median life span of patients in Canada is 50.9 years, versus 40.6 in the US. A number of factors might be at play, but the big one involves health insurance.
- There Are Millions More Penguins Than We Thought: In a rare bit of good news in the animal conservation world, scientists say they vastly lowballed the penguin population on Antarctica. The off-base estimate pertains to Adelie penguins—that's the adorable Happy Feet variety—and it turns out there are 3.6 million more of them than previously thought. So why did their number take such a leap? Ironically, it's all-about the non-breeding penguins in the group.
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