The Wild File

The Wild File: Outdoor Questions Answered
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Q) I picked up a spider and it screamed at me—I swear! Is this possible?


A reader looking to pack fast and light wants to know what is the MOST NUTRIENT-RICH FOOD in the world. Nature's great, but it doesn't provide one single food that gives you everything. So depending on which nutrients you consider most crucial, the answer may be eggs, soybeans, avocadoes, or—if it suits your age group—breast milk. But if you want to nail down the two main categories—macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals)—try using a little teamwork. According to UC Davis nutritionist Britt Burton-Freeman, nuts are packed with protein and healthy fats, as well as certain vitamins and minerals (almonds are great for vitamin E, walnuts for potassium). To get your carbs and a potent cocktail of micronutrients, add any ...

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Jan Brett, Dorset, England

If you have good ears, you might have heard a stridulation. That's the noise a spider makes when it's courting a mate or trying to ward off predators, and it's produced by rubbing a scraper-like organ against a file-like organ—as a cricket does, but far less noisy. UC Berkeley arachnologist Eileen Hebets says most spiders stridulate too quietly for humans to hear; an exception is Australia's barking spider, a kind of tarantula that lets out a hissing sound when threatened. It's a far cry from a scream, though. Truth is, spiders have no eardrums, and only "hear" one another through vibrations. The spined micrathena, common in the U.S., vibrates with such gusto that if you picked one up, you'd think it was a wind-up toy. All in all, spiders are silent types. "When I dream, I almost always dream about spiders," Hebets says. "But rarely can I hear them in my sleep."

Q) What ski area is closest to the equator, and how good is the snow?
John Pierson, Wayzata, Minnesota

You can backcountry-ski practically right on the equator—in Ecuador and on Africa's Mount Kenya—but the closest ski area is 1,100 miles away in Bolivia, at a sketchy nonresort called Chacaltaya. It lies at 16 degrees south latitude in the Cordillera Real, on a glacier at a jaw-dropping 17,785 feet—making it also the highest ski area in the world. If you think skiing even a bunny hill at that elevation would take the lungs of Ed Viesturs, you're right; thankfully, Chacaltaya's single run is only about 300 feet long. But there's no guarantee you'll see any snow, and the glacier is melting fast. In short, Vail it ain't. The hill is open only one day a week (Sunday), and admission is $8. It also doesn't hurt to bring fuel to help run the cable tow, which people fall off all the time, according to Javier Thellaeche, of outfitter Andean Summits. "Then everyone else falls as well." By the time you make the top, he says, "you're so tired you don't want to ski."

Q) Do animals have orgasms?
Amy Petersen, Bend, Oregon

There's been more research on this topic than you might care to know about, and the answer is yes—at least for primates. According to Marlene Zuk, a professor of biology at the University of California at Riverside and author of Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can't Learn About Sex from Animals, studies of macaques and bonobos reveal that both males and females have orgasms, measured as contractions of muscles and tissues in their nether regions. What has scientists scratching their heads is that almost all of the observed orgasms among females have occurred not during copulation but in homosexual encounters or masturbation. It gets more mysterious when we look at the rest of the mammal world, but some speculate that, based on informal study of rabbits, dogs, and other critters, the orgasm phenomenon is universal. One ferret researcher, for example, insisted his female subjects climax—judging merely by the looks on their faces.

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