Arachnophobia

spider.jpgAlien spiders are invading Europe: no sign though of huge, furry monsters goose-stepping across the countryside. It’s not quite as scary, but tiny eight-legged beasts are moving in from abroad. No D-Day to speak of, but a slow process that has been taking place for over a century. According to Wolfgang Nentwig and his colleagues at Bern University, 87 foreign spider species have made their way to Europe in the past 150 years. Their study shows that one factor has been the faster pace of trade in recent years, while climate change seems to be playing a role as well. Humans could soon be sharing space with these new arrivals, but dangerous critters don’t seem to be on the cards for the time being.

And to satisfy all those lovers of furry spiders out there, here is the trailer of that 1975 classic, The Giant Spider Invasion!

Advertisements

Swiss army knife overdose

knife2.jpgYou will need big pockets and big hands for this one: a Swiss Army knife that weighs nearly 1.4 kilograms has been inducted into the 2008 edition of Guinness World Records for “most functions on a penknife.” It has 87 tools and at least 115 uses. Developed by Wenger, the beast has a dozen or so blades, saws and cutters; a dozen or so screwdrivers; and the toothpicks, key rings, magnifiers, fish scalers and nail files sometimes found on combination penknives. But it also includes a laser pointer and a flashlight. And wait there’s more: it has a wrench just for the spikes on a golf shoe; a tool just for opening the case of a watch; and a screwdriver specifically for gunsights… A long way from from the original Swiss army special, it costs just $1,200, perfect for a Christmas gift! Whether it represents the best of Switzerland is open to debate. No mention either from the manufacturer on how you should get it through airport security, or whether it is really useful for opening a cold bottle of beer to quench that thirst you got from lugging it around.

Getting down and dirty underwater

sriimg20071116_8427750_0.jpgHere’s some news that will make men sit up and take notice: researchers have pinpointed an “oral sex” gene that makes females suck up sperm through their mouths. The gene was found in the cichlid fish, where the males have evolved a way to lure females close so that they can squirt sperm into their mouths. In cichlids, females keep their eggs in their mouths and incubate them there. As soon as a female has spawned her eggs, she collects them up in her mouth. Normally, sperm released into the water by a male nearby will then fertilise the eggs. But males of one cichlid species in east Africa has improved his chances of being a daddy. Yellow markings resembling the eggs are found on the anal or pelvic fins. According to Walter Salzburger of the universities of Lausanne, Basel and Konstanz, when a female approaches the male, she thinks she sees an egg on its fin and tries to suck it – getting a mouthful of sperm in the process. Salzburger says this shows that the dummy egg spots are a genetic trait that provides a selective advantage because they encourage females to participate in oral mating.

See the video:

Anything to stop the Germans

689695_34880249.jpgA 70-year old German seeking Swiss citizenship has been told to go back to school to learn his native tongue according to Zurich’s Tages Anzeiger newspaper. The town of Dielsdorf ordered Ulrich Kring – who has lived in Switzerland his entire life but is only now applying for citizenship – to take a German language course! The class, which costs SFr250, is compulsory for all foreigners seeking a Swiss passport and the town refuses to make an exception. Ulrich Kring has lodged an appeal against the decision, but has not had a reply yet… Two thirds of the country’s 7.5 million inhabitants are German speakers, but “real” Germans (and they not the only ones: a lot of Swiss too) find Swiss-German dialect hard to understand. One cannot wonder though if this has something to do with an anti-immigrant reflex, brought on by the recent arrival of even more Germans in Switzerland.

Welcome to the dark side…

chocolateChocoholics rejoice and make your’s a dark one: researchers at Zurich University have published results from a study that show that dark chocolate doesn’t just taste good or boost your morale. It can also be beneficial for blood flow. Forty grammes of chocolate with at least 70 per cent cocoa content have measurable effects two hours after being eaten. It apparently induces dilatation of heart blood vessels, improves their function and decreases platelet adhesion, responsible for blood clots. The researchers believe this is all due to the large proportion of antioxidants (flavonoids) found in darker chocolate, although these antioxidant virtues are contested by other scientists. With this kind of news, cocoa and chocolate could going up more than expected next year, and chocolate might end up being branded a health food.

Swiss witch could be rehabilitated

witch1.jpgThe last witch to be executed in Europe, Anna Göldi (or Göldin) could be rehabilitated. Members of canton Glarus‘ parliament have voted the measure despite the local government’s opposition to the move after lobbying by Swiss journalist Walter Hauser. Göldi was decapitated in 1782 after being sentenced for poisoning her employer’s child, although the heart of the trial was her alleged involvement in witchcraft. The court is believed to have wanted to avoid the embarrassment of an official witch trial. Arrested in 1782, she had confessed to have acted in the Devil’s name, albeit after undergoing torture. The canton’s government, backed by the Protestant Church, had refused rehabilitation, reasoning that 225 years after the fact it could not take any responsibility for what happened, even if there had been a miscarriage of justice.

Assisted suicide hits the road

van.jpgAnother twist in the assisted suicide plot: still unable to rent premises where foreigners could come to die of their own free will, the Zurich-based Dignitas association is now resorting to vehicles. Swiss television has reported at least two recent cases of Germans travelling to Switzerland to end their lives with Dignitas’ help that have passed away in a van and a delivery truck. Local police have since confirmed the deaths. The association was forced to leave a flat it had been renting after neighbours complained about the large number of deaths happening on their doorstep. Other towns and villages have refused to let Dignitas set up shop, forcing it to hit the road.