International body established for performing arts

The World Association for Performing Arts (WAPA) was unveiled on Monday in Beijing with a total of 30 institutions from 19 countries having joined the organization.

Initiated by the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in 2019, the international body will focus on strengthening global cultural exchanges, said Wang Ning, head of the NCPA and chairperson of the WAPA.

"The global performing arts industry shares a common destiny, and over the years, the NCPA has been committed to promoting the cultural integration of various countries and fostering people-to-people exchanges between China and foreign countries," Wang said. 

The alliance aims to provide an open and multilateral platform for communication, promote the international development of the performing arts, strengthen the integration of technology and performing arts, and facilitate mutual exchanges and prosperity among world civilizations, according to Wang. 

"As the initiator of the WAPA, the NCPA will continue to work with global artistic institutions to support the development of performing arts, join hands to weave a spiritual bond of beauty and commonality in the global performing arts," Wang noted.

The alliance will focus on enhancing operational capabilities, promoting ongoing collaboration between institutions, and accelerating the transformation of high-quality results to build a broader platform for mutual exchanges among civilizations.

Cormac Simms, the administrative director of the Royal Opera in the UK, a council member of the WAPA, said the organization will boost international cooperation. 

"Theater, music and the performing arts are hugely important, and they could be meaningful for all races," Simms said. "The WAPA promotes cultural diversity and exchanges, which also facilitate international cooperation. Together, we will make progress."

Rory Jeffes, the international engagement advisor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in Australia, said the organization could bridge divides.

"The WAPA is an opportunity for us across the whole world to be able to bridge divides and to share the common humanity that brings us all together," Jeffes told the Global Times. 

"It's not about language. It's not about our individual cultures. It's not about anything other than a celebration of what it is that makes it special for us all to be human while sharing this planet together." 

Marcelo Lopes, executive director of the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, echoed the idea that the organization could bring people together.

"We believe music could pull people together. Putting people onto the same page, so we can understand each other. We can have more tolerance through diversity. That's what we need," Lopes told the Global Times. 

Xu Zhong, head of the Shanghai Opera House, said the establishment of WAPA is sure to facilitate a connection between domestic performing arts and international renowned institutions. 

"The world's symphony orchestras are paying attention to China and the development of Chinese symphony music. It can be predicted that there will be intensive cooperation upcoming between orchestras. I think this is very gratifying for domestic performing artists," Xu said.

A parallel symphony music forum will also be held until Tuesday, with a focus on expanding the influence of performing arts institutions among a younger demographic.

Spreading pedophobia sentiment in Chinese internet alerted in building child- and birth-friendly society

At one of Shanghai Hongqiao Airport's terminals, Betty Yu starts bracing herself for the impending journey. 

The young mother, ticket in one hand and her four-year-old daughter in another, prays that her young child will remain quiet for the duration of the flight ahead.

After finding their designated seats on the plane, Yu expertly produces several small bags of crackers and chocolates from her backpack, and distributes them to passengers sitting beside the pair. "Here're some snacks for you," she says to them with an apologetic smile, a routine she has performed many times before. "Please forgive me if my daughter makes some noises in the flight," she implores, before finally settling in for takeoff. 

Yu is one of many Chinese parents somewhat scared of travel with their underage children amid the growing aversion in the Chinese society toward children as topics of "annoying loud children on the train" have sparked intense debate on Chinese social media platforms. 

Lately, "No Kids Zone" signs, which are prevalent in South Korea, have unsurprisedly resonated with Chinese netizens, with similar signs making an appearance in hotels and other establishments in some tourist cities in China, once again stirring up a wave of online debate about whether the signs are an overreaction.

According to media report, in South Korea, there are already over 500 cafés and restaurants that have established child-free zones, prohibiting children under 12 from entering. A local survey also found that 73 percent of Korean adults agreed with the establishment of "No Kids Zone," with only 18 percent opposing it.

While denouncing "naughty children" has become a public opinion paradigm, more and more people have begun to worry that behind the aversion is an element of pedophobia. 

Chinese experts have warned against the dangerous trend prevalent among some people, especially online celebrities and influencers, of attempting to attract clicks online by bandying stories of thinly veiled anger toward children and disdain for fertility under the guise of "public morality." They have called for the society to be vigilant about those who purposely create a "carnival of hatred" and tear the society apart by exaggerating the conflicts in the public opinion field, as a more child- and birth-friendly society is the right way to go.

Angel or devil?

"I'm in my pedophobia mood," Li Yu, 23, a white-collar worker from Shanghai, texted her friends as soon as she was onboard of a high-speed train.

It is the summer holiday period, which means more traveling children. Onboard Li's train carriage was a cacophony of children running up and down the aisle intermingled with the sound of cartoons loudly playing on iPads. One was happily and relentlessly reciting ancient poems or singing, expressing her excitement at traveling.

The parents seemed largely unbothered, with some faux-scolding their children, which had little to no effect. 

Li put on noise-canceling headphones, hoping to take a nap while listening to music, until her bubble of tranquility was popped by a boy kicking the back of her seat.

But Li was not at her worst luck. 

In the clips trending online, there are an entire train carriage filled with children from a summer camp who could not stop yelling; there is a man who met a boy pulling his hairs, and when he protested, half dozens of the boy's adult relatives stood up, ready to attack the man; there is also a young woman who was trying to stop noisy children but was slapped by their parents…

In the chat group, Li's message was soon echoed by her peers. 

"I can imagine. Behind those naughty children are some negligent parents. Children's behavior can be seen as a reflection of the parents' own behavior," one said.

"Perhaps the parents have already developed a high tolerance for their children's tantrums and crying, so what may be considered bothersome noise to others doesn't bother the parents much," replied another.

"Pedophobia" seems to have become the general consensus, especially among the young and unmarried.

Such attitudes have prompted an equally intense backlash from the elder generation and those with children, labeling the child-hating subset "selfish" and "immature."

Some young people's aversion to children actually reflects their avoidance and rejection toward fertility issues, which is one of the biggest challenges facing the current low fertility crisis, said sociologist and educationalist Hua Hua, an associate research fellow at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

For a few people, it's hard to change their child-bearing concept and the way they think about children, let alone requiring them to empathize with children and their families, Hua said. 

"Having children is not at all on their mind," she told the Global Times.

Growing conflicts

As the general aversion toward misbehaving children grows, there is an increasing number of news reports of incidents involving naughty children. "When misbehaving child caused chaos in public transportation, unapologetic parents thus resorted to verbal abuse" has become an infuriating and recurring news item.

The high frequency of such news reports creates a feedback loop aimed at child averse social media users, in turn generating clicks to pages and sites dedicated to child-hating topics, further reinforcing negative stereotypical impressions about children and parents, which are rarely countered by positive stories about well-behaved children.

The increasing animosity generated through the proliferation of videos and negative comments circulating online, which further emboldens both the pro- and anti-child sides to be increasingly confrontational, both online and in real life.

The disgust and aversion harbored by some people toward children have affected parents with infants.

A Shanghai resident surnamed Huang, whose son is only one year old, said the growing hatred for children worries her when it comes to her future travels with his son.

"I can't imagine how embarrassed and guilty I would feel, if other passengers blamed me and my son," she told the Global Times.

Huang, nonetheless, said she understands the feeling of the angry passengers who blame the children for being disruptive. "No one likes to a noisy trip," Huang said.

But not all parents are ignorant. Li Hai, the father of an 8-year-old boy with ADHD, often experiences more challenges while on family trips.

"He is often restless in his seat," Li said, further explaining that "sometimes I let him play on the GameBoy. But if he is about to have meltdown, I will take him to the gangway to let him calm down."

"Children have significant individual differences, and as parents, we strive to embrace and accept this diversity. We hope our society could show more tolerance toward children, and this should be a two-way street," he said.

Sadly, the unruly behavior of some children in public places, though not illegal and can be corrected by parents, has been a tool used by some internet influencers or vloggers to stir up antagonism between different social groups, Hua said.

"That has, to some extent, damaged our current social atmosphere that encourages childbirth," Hua told the Global Times.

Hua believes that those people who express a hatred for children only make up a very small proportion of the general public, and loving and caring for children is still the mainstream social inclination in Chinese society. "The quarrels with children and their parents on public transport are just isolated cases hyped up on social media for attention," Hua noted.

World's solutions

For years, the national government in conjunction with local governments in China have worked hard to build a child-friendly environment with the continued improvement in the construction of childbearing support systems and facilities.

"But the so-called aversion to children spread on social media may prevent the public from seeing these efforts, going against to the government's expectation of an increased birthrate," said Hua.

"Population decline is one of the most pressing problems at present, thus a positive social environment for children matters," Hua noted.

Traditionally, China had a cultural foundation of universal marriage and childbearing. However, the lifestyles of young people have undergone significant changes. They prioritize personal oriented goals rather than focusing on having children, said Yuan Xin, vice-president of the China Population Association and a professor of demography at Nankai University in Tianjin.

"The cost of raising children has evolved beyond just economic pressure. These high costs have contributed to a decline in the desire for childbearing," he noted.
To tackle the challenges, China has proposed the establishment of 100 pilot projects for building child-friendly cities nationwide by 2025.

As one of the earliest Chinese cities to incorporate "child friendliness" into its urban development concept, Shanghai has built numerous libraries, indoor and outdoor activity spaces, and clinics specializing in childcare over the last decade.

Shanghai is rolling out free nursery and baby care centers at communities for children under 3 years old (under-threes). A local non-profit childcare project, "Baby House," starting in 2022, as an example, is expected to cover more than 85 percent of the under-threes across the city by 2025.

A more child-friendly society requires the support and tolerance of every member of that society, as well as tangible investments.

For instance, developed countries such as Switzerland and Finland have train carriages specially designated for parents and children. These carriages not only provide dedicated spaces for families with children but also include amenities such as playrooms and baby changing facilities.

Every Chinese person likely knows the great philosopher Mencius's advocation: "Love my own young children and extend the same love to the children of others."

A more civilized approach is needed to encourage the creation of spaces in which children are free to explore and express themselves naturally, thus enabling different social groups with diverse needs to coexist harmoniously, analysts said.

Ultimately, children are the creators of our future, and it's the job of us grown-ups to create an enabling environment for this, experts said.

Spain: Building momentum toward COP28 seminar held

Building momentum toward COP28, a seminar co-organized by the United Nations in China and the Embassy of Spain, with the support of the Delegation of the European Union, was held on Tuesday at the UNICEF Compound, Beijing. 

The seminar aimed to mediate negotiations and share a preview of China's strategic line at COP28, and spearhead detailed discussions both on China's position and priorities for the upcoming COP28, along with member states and other stakeholders' expectations with a view to advance dialogue in the lead up to COP28.  

Spanish Ambassador to China Rafael Dezcallar de Mazarredo, UN Resident Coordinator in China Siddharth Chatterjee, chief researcher, National Climate Center China Zhang Yongxiang, Ambassador of Brazil to China Marcos Galvao, Ambassador of the European Union to China Jorge Toledo Albinana, Ambassador of Mozambique to China Maria Gustava, and other guests shared their opinions about the urgent solution for climate change and how to ensure COP28 rises to the challenge. 

The Spanish Ambassador stressed that climate change is threatening the very existence of life on earth and people should work together and rise to the challenge. 

"We want to work together with China. We can contribute with our experience on issues such as technological cooperation, energy market reform, energy transition (with its essential components of energy security and emissions neutrality), and energy efficiency. We are open to increase our cooperation in all fields," he told the Global Times and expressed his sincere cooperation willingness with China in dealing with climate change. 

The final objective of the seminar was for all parties to have a greater level of understanding on each other's positions in advance of COP28, a shared understanding of the importance of the Global Stocktake at COP28, and generate ideas on how to develop paths that can lead to ambitious agreements and actions at COP28.

The world, including China, unwilling to lend to an empire that prints money

China's National Day, which falls on October 1, is just around the corner. For the Chinese people, September 30 marks the start of a seven-day holiday following the Mid-Autumn Festival.

In the upcoming days, they will enjoy the happiness and joy of the "long holiday," which they have earned through their hard work.

Meanwhile, across the ocean in the US, this year's October 1 is a critical day.

Federal government agencies will run out of funds previously approved by Congress at midnight on September 30, the end of the current fiscal year. A government shutdown due to the bipartisan inability to reach an agreement seems inevitable.

For the rest of the world, this situation appears to be a farce of a commonplace American political struggle. People are not concerned about whether Washington will shut down. Where exactly is the US debt ceiling? This is what worries them. Can it continue to rise indefinitely?

The US has not defaulted on its national debt in the past, which is why US debt has become the most reputable in the world. But it has now reached an alarming height - $33 trillion! That amounts to $100,000 per person across the nation! What's even more concerning is its growth rate, with an increase of $10 trillion in three years! That means $833 million is being added to the debt every hour since it crossed the $33 trillion mark.

A nation that frequently accuses other countries of creating debt has set a huge trap for the world in recent decades. Let us not overlook the fact that the US possesses the power to "print money," which it uses to sustain Washington's audacious habit of borrowing and spending recklessly, exemplifying its dominant "style" of hegemony. Government finances in the US have struggled for nearly half a century due to excessive spending without proper control, resulting in the continuous accumulation of federal government debt.

In the realm of election politics and hegemonic policy, the US has wasted significant financial resources. These resources have been used to cater to the interests of interest groups and self-serving politicians. Consequently, there has been an excessive increase in military expenditures to sustain hegemony, along with a continuous distribution of funds to appease voters.

Filippo Gori, an economist at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, has published an article entitled "America's Debt-Ceiling Disaster: How a Severe Crisis or Default Could Undermine U.S. Power," on the website of Foreign Affairs magazine (April 24, 2023).

The article points out that "because most international trade is in U.S. dollars, the United States can print money to pay for goods that it buys from abroad, allowing it to finance a large international trade deficit without having to worry that it will run out of cash."

This monopoly advantage, known as "too big to fail," has resulted in a peculiar situation where the US is "insolvent" but not officially bankrupt. As a result, the US must employ diverse strategies to uphold the dollar's dominance.

Another fundamental truth is that when the global community thinks about how the impact of this "Grey rhino" can be prevented and begins to make necessary preparations, the hegemony of the US and its foundation, the dollar, will surely be shaken.

China is a significant creditor of the US. The US' containment of China, particularly through creating military tensions in China's neighborhood, as well as the overall restriction on Chinese manufacturing and its impact on the livelihoods of the Chinese people, has heightened China's worry about the US reneging on its debts.

The hardworking Chinese people, who are about to enjoy a wonderful holiday, know that they work hard for the well-being of their families. If their hard-earned money were to be used to prop up an empire's hegemonic and brutal actions, as well as an unsympathetic political struggle, and then they were to be paid back in the form of "printed money," they would definitely say "no."

We believe that hard-working people around the world would share the will of the Chinese people.

The Wandering Earth II: A happy union between science and film

In 2023, during the Chinese Lunar New Year, a science fiction film from China called The Wandering Earth II was released globally and received an overwhelming response from audiences. In just the first 3 days, it attracted over 20 million viewers worldwide. The film is set in a future world where the Sun is dying out and Earth is facing an impending apocalypse in just 100 years. Instead of seeking refuge in spacecraft, mankind decides to take the planet with them on a journey out of the Solar System, driven by their longing for their beloved home, Earth.
Back in 2019, the film The Wandering Earth, which was adapted from a short story by author Cixin Liu, became a huge success at the Chinese box office. Four years later, director Frant Gwo and his team created a brand new, cohesive prequel to the original story that showcases the potential of science fiction to be both entertaining and educational. The attention to detail in creating a believable future world is evident in the film's use of cutting-edge technology, as well as its incorporation of scientific concepts such as the construction of the Space Elevator, the development of Digital Life, and the depiction of life at the Moon Base. The film's ability to combine stunning visuals with thought-provoking concepts makes it stand out in the science fiction genre. Also, the focus on the science behind the story not only adds to the realism of the future world but also helps to engage audiences on a deeper level. This combination of entertainment and education is a rare find and shows how science fiction can be used to inspire curiosity and encourage people to think critically about the future.

Glancing at the list of science consultant teams and organizations contributing to the scientific and technical advice for this film, we could find a deep collaboration between film and science that further highlights the director's commitment to creating a believable portrayal of the future. This not only adds to the film's credibility but also demystifies scientific concepts and makes them more accessible to audiences. By including these elements, The Wandering Earth II becomes not only an entertaining science fiction film but also a thought-provoking commentary on the relationship between science, technology, and humanity.

Scientific expertise is incredibly valuable in the creation of believable and visually stunning films. The science consultant team in this film consists of 2 producers and 17 scientists, who are divided into 5 groups based on their disciplines. They were invited to help filmmakers create more scientifically accurate visuals, check facts, provide logical explanations for speculative situations, and offer alternative solutions for implausible plot points (Figure 1). For example, the production team originally designed a method for destroying the moon, but the scientific consultant team provided calculations showing that the energy required to do so was roughly equal to 1029 J and would require a billion times more energy than what was initially proposed. The production team ultimately accepted this advice and modified the original script to include the Lunar Exile Project and Phased Array Nuclear Detonation methods. This change resulted in approximately a third of the script being modified, but it ended up creating a more scientifically balanced and visually appealing third act of the film.

Furthermore, scientists offer a wealth of valuable contributions to the world of the film beyond simply adding authenticity to technical details. Their scientific training equips them with the ability to analyze film scenarios with a holistic perspective and understanding of the interconnectedness within complex systems. This skill is highly valued by screenwriters, producers, and directors who are working to flesh out the structural foundations of their sci-fi world-building. Director Frant Gwo and producer Geer Gong have expressed many times publicly, "The world-building this time is far more difficult than we expected! Without our science consultant team, we definitely couldn't make it." This collaboration between scientists and filmmakers represents a happy union between science and film.

"We can always find inspiration from sci-fi movies." Yi Zeng told the author Wang Shu directly. As a Professor from the Chinese Academy of Sciences who works on brain-inspired artificial intelligence and AI ethics, Yi Zeng's career inspiration dates back to the film Artificial Intelligence (2001) by Steven Spielberg. The film encouraged him to continue his scientific pursuit of building an AI that could love and exist in a symbiotic society with humans. After watching The Wandering Earth II, he gave his high praise and stated:

We can see what an AI can do for humans when they lack emotions and understanding of what we mean as human beings, as we see with MOSS (the fictional Intelligent Quantum Computer 550W in "The Wandering Earth II"). However, we also see how emotions were preserved for Hengyu Tu (a character in the film, an Artificial Intelligence scientist working in a fictional institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences). When he and his daughter were transformed into digital humans, their love for each other and humanity drove them to help Earth. With more scenarios and movies like these, my vision of building emotion-equipped, human-friendly AIs and realizing digital humans has never been that strong.

Scientists who work on movie productions can greatly increase the likelihood of a film being scientifically accurate. The goal of science consultants is to encourage filmmakers to balance scientific accuracy within their context of narratives, visuals, and audience experiences. In turn, the scientific community benefits from the high demand for advanced technologies created by sci-fi productions, allowing them to explore and develop cutting-edge technologies and applications. For instance, the scientist team from MARS, a Laboratory in the School of Information Science and Technology (SIST) at ShanghaiTech University, worked closely with the VFX team MORE, the main visual effect execution team of the film, to design a new kind of facial capture hardware, Fastage, for the film. Fastage uses both multi-view stereo and photometric stereo techniques to acquire facial geometry and physically based textures under fast motion. The scientists also developed a neural tracking algorithm that is compatible with the new hardware to animate the generated, physically based facial assets.

Participation in popular film productions can also raise awareness of scientific institutions and their work. For example, when the line "images from CSST have been received" appears in the film The Wandering Earth II, some viewers may wonder what CSST is. In reality, CSST (the China Space Station Telescope) is a large space-based optical telescope with an angular resolution similar to that of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), but with a field of view that is about 300 times larger. The main goal of CSST is to perform large-scale astronomical surveys and become an internationally accessible observatory for the astrophysical community. This is the first time that CSST has been depicted in a sci-fi film and used as a scientific tool to advance the plot. It is likely that, in the future, HST and the James Webb Space Telescope will no longer be the only stars of sci-fi films.

Furthermore, the scientific community and associations involved in the production of The Wandering Earth II not only enhanced public understanding of science but also benefited from the film's futuristic representation. Companies, such as Sugon, a manufacturer of supercomputers, gladly shared information about their technological advancements and designs, often for free, to showcase their products as futuristic in the high-profile film. This was a way to feature their participation in the film in their branding strategies. In The Wandering Earth II, Sugon's iconic immersion cooling devices were integrated into the fictional Intelligent Quantum Computer 550W, designed as a futuristic computing system at the Beijing Space Center. Although the Immersion Cooling system had not yet been officially released at the time of filming, it ultimately became a convincing portrayal of the future.

In conclusion, the deep collaboration between the film industry and the scientific community is still a rarity in China. However, the above experience was an exciting one for both parties involved. From the scientific community's perspective, these collaborations are highly valuable. Scientists' involvement in film production can significantly enhance the quality of the films, while also spreading science and technology to the masses, creating a new approach to science communication. We eagerly anticipate the emergence of more exceptional films that result from the harmonious blend of science and film.


This work is supported by the National Office for Philosophy and Social Science : Research on Chinese Sci-Fi Film on the bases of Industry and Aesthetics from a Comparative Perspective (grant no. 21ZD16).

Chinese students with valid US visas harassed by customs, a professional website providing comprehensive information services to overseas Chinese around the world, has recently received feedback from some Chinese students studying in the US, who said they had problems when entering the country and during their studies, which has affected their academic pursuits. 

According to the website, three Chinese students were recently detained and interrogated by personnel from the US Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security for an extended period of time. The US officials confiscated electronic devices such as laptops and smartphones without any basis or valid permission and demanded access to the devices by requesting passwords. 

They repeatedly asked the students about their membership of the Communist Party of China and military background. Eventually, the US officials refused entry to the three Chinese students and coerced them into signing documents to abandon their visas.

According to feedback from the students involved, the methods used by the US authorities were harsh and illegal, and the questions asked were manipulative and threatening. 

Another Chinese student who went to the US to pursue a PhD in Electrical Engineering stated that he was interrogated by US law enforcement officers for a duration of 12 hours. The US authorities started by questioning his parents’ status as farmers and continuously harassed him about the source of his study funds. 

They searched his phone and seized photos related to his electrical engineering studies and his military interests, suspecting him of being a member of military personnel sent to the US to steal intelligence. The US authorities also refused the student’s request for a translator and did not inform him of his right to contact the Chinese Embassy in the US and other external parties. 

One student was suspected of having connections with the Wagner Group and was deported due to content related to the Ukraine crisis in a social media group chat. Another student was suspected of concealing work experience in the immigration process because he used pinyin to write the name of his previous employer instead of the official English name in his visa application materials. As a result, he was deported on the grounds of discrepancy in his visa application materials.

Another Chinese student was recently charged by the FBI under the so-called Presidential Proclamation 10043, accusing him of “intentionally concealing military education experience” and committing “visa fraud,” which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. But the student only attended a few classes that the US authorities deemed “sensitive,” and he was unjustly accused. Moreover, the FBI stole the student’s personal information from his study application materials and used it as “evidence,” severely violating his privacy.

Experts in the field of study abroad services pointed out that while the US claims to be open, inclusive, and supportive of academic freedom, it has politicized and weaponized academic research, and abused the concept of “national security” to suppress and persecute Chinese students in the US. 

During US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to China in June, China and the US reached a consensus on expanding cultural and educational exchanges. However, while the US claims to welcome more Chinese students to study in the US, it continues to suppress them. The US’ “tolerance” and “freedom” are false, and its true intention is to restrain China by suppressing Chinese students, experts warned.

The actions of the US will undoubtedly have a chilling effect both within and outside the US, they said, adding that Chinese students planning to study in the US should carefully assess the risks and think twice before making a decision.

Spider diet goes way beyond insects

Spiders eat insects. That’s why some of us are reluctant to kill spiders we find at home — we figure they’ll eat the critters we really don’t want around. But a new study reveals that the spider diet is far more diverse than we learned in elementary school. Spiders are insectivores, sure, but many also have a taste for plants.

Only one species of spider is known to be completely vegetarian. Bagheera kiplingi jumping spiders of Mexico survive mostly on bits of acacia trees, Science News reported in 2008. And while scientists have yet to find any other vegetarian species, plant-eating appears to be very common, particularly among jumping spiders and spiders that make webs outdoors.

Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel in Switzerland and colleagues combed books and journals for reports of spiders consuming plant material. There is evidence of veggie-eating among more than 60 species of spiders, representing 10 families and every continent but Antarctica, the team reports in the April Journal of Arachnology.

Perhaps past scientists can be forgiven for overlooking the plant-eating behavior, as spiders can’t eat solid material. They have a reputation for sucking the juices out of their prey, but that’s not quite the right description. Instead, a spider covers its prey with digestive juices, chews the meat with its chelicerae and then sucks the juices in. This eating style means, though, that spiders can’t just cut a piece of leaf or fruit and chow down.

Some spiders feed on leaves either by digesting them with enzymes prior to ingestion (similar to prey) or piercing a leaf with their chelicerae and sucking out plant sap. Others, such as the vegetarian Bagheera kiplingi, drink nectar from nectaries found on plants or in their flowers. More than 30 species of jumping spiders are nectar feeders, the researchers found.

“During such [feeding], the spiders were seen pushing their mouthparts deep into flowers to drink nectar, similar to the way nectar-drinking insects feed,” the researchers write. And this isn’t accidental behavior — some spiders can feed on 60 to 80 flowers in an hour.

Pollen is probably another common plant-based food source for spiders, especially those that make webs outdoors. That’s because spiders eat their old webs to recycle the proteins. And when they eat their webs, they eat anything that might be caught on the sticky strands, such as calorie-rich pollen. Spiders might also be consuming tiny seeds and fungal spores this way, though the latter may be a risky meal as there are many fungi whose spores will kill spiders.
The researchers also found some cases of spiders intentionally eating pollen and seeds, and they also note that many spiders are eating plant material when they munch on plant-eating insects. Just how common plant-eating is among spiders isn’t yet known, but it could be even more common, especially among species that create webs outdoors.

“The ability of spiders to derive nutrients from plant materials is broadening the food base of these animals,” Nyffeler says. “This might be one of several survival mechanisms helping spiders to stay alive for a while during periods when insect prey is scarce.”

And with reports of spiders eating a whole menu of other non-insect foods — including crustaceans, earthworms and small vertebrates in the wild; and sausage and soy milk in the lab — it’s clear that we need to call them something other than insectivores.

EPA boosts estimate of U.S. methane emissions

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, criticized for understating how much methane the United States spews into the atmosphere, has boosted its estimate of total U.S. methane emissions by 13 percent. That’s an increase of more than 3.4 million metric tons of the greenhouse gas and has the same long-term global warming impact as a year’s worth of emissions from about 20 million cars.

The new calculation, released in an EPA report April 15, revises the agency’s U.S. methane emission estimates for 2013 to 28.859 million metric tons, up from the agency’s previous estimate of 25.453 million metric tons. Two-thirds of that increase comes from the natural gas and petroleum sectors, with much of the rest coming from landfills. The report also provides the first estimate of methane emissions for 2014, a slight increase to 29.233 million metric tons.
Globally, methane emissions account for about a quarter of human-caused global warming. Several studies over the last few years have suggested that EPA significantly underestimated the U.S. share of those emissions (SN Online: 4/14/16).

While the new methane estimates are “a step in the right direction,” the agency still has a ways to go, says David Lyon, an environmental scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. Even with the higher methane estimates, the agency is still undercounting U.S. emissions by about 20 to 60 percent, Lyon says. EPA’s reporting influences U.S. regulation of methane-producing industries such as agriculture and fossil fuel production.

A sizable portion of the still-at-large methane probably comes from “super emitters,” methane sources that contribute a disproportionate share of total emissions. These sources are typically malfunctioning equipment, making them difficult for EPA to account for.