Top stories: Superblack spiders, the ‘wood wide web,’ and an antivenom funding infusion | Science

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Top stories: Superblack spiders, the ‘wood wide web,’ and an antivenom funding infusion | Science

(left to right): JURGEN OTTO; KABIR GABRIEL PEAY; REPTILES4ALL/SHUTTERSTOCK

The ‘superblack’ patches on these spiders make their other colors glow

Male peacock spiders attract mates through elaborate dances that show off their brilliant colors. The key to those vibrant hues appears to be so-called “superblack” patches on the arachnid’s abdomen. Using an electron microscope and hyperspectral imaging, scientists found that the patches are made up of an array of small, tightly packed bumps called microlenses. These microlenses reflect less than 0.5% of light, thus eliminating any highlights in the black and making the other nearby colors appear far brighter—even glowing.

‘Wood wide web’—the underground network of microbes that connects trees—mapped for first time

Trees, from the mighty redwoods to slender dogwoods, would be nothing without their microbial sidekicks. Millions of species of fungi and bacteria swap nutrients between soil and the roots of trees, forming a vast, interconnected web of organisms throughout the woods. Now, for the first time, scientists have mapped this “wood wide web” on a global scale, using a database of more than 28,000 tree species living in more than 70 countries.

Snakebites, a globally neglected killer, get a ‘transformational’ injection of research funds

Snakebites kill as many as 138,000 people a year, mostly among the rural poor in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Another 400,000 victims suffer major disabilities such as amputation. Yet funders, more interested in infectious diseases that can be prevented and eradicated, have largely stayed away. That is now changing. This week, the Wellcome Trust charity in London announced an £80 million, 7-year research program to improve antivenoms and search for new treatments—a major influx of money in a small field.

The world needs to get serious about managing sand, U.N. report says

Our reliance on sand is staggering—by volume, the amount we use is second only to water. As a key component of cement, asphalt, and glass, sand is integral to our phones, schools, hospitals, and roads. But our insatiable demand for sand now poses “one of the major sustainability challenges of the 21st century,” and meeting it will require “improved governance of global sand resources,” concludes a United Nations report released this month.

Citizen sleuths exposed pollution from a century-old Michigan factory, with nationwide implications

In 2010, citizens in Rockford, Michigan, started to uncover evidence that a shuttered tannery owned by bootmaker Wolverine Worldwide had contaminated large swaths of land and water with “forever chemicals” linked to a wide array of health problems, known as a per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). The citizen sleuthing helped trigger a statewide survey of PFAS contamination and spurred hundreds of lawsuits. It has also made Michigan a closely watched battleground in a rapidly expanding scientific, political, and legal dispute over the threat PFASs may pose to millions of people in the United States.

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