Extremely drug-resistant germ found in eye drops infects 55 in 12 states; 1 dead

Young man applying eye drops.

Enlarge (credit: Getty | UniversalImagesGroup)

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

An extensively drug-resistant bacterial strain is spreading in the US for the first time and causing an alarming outbreak linked to artificial tears eye drops, according to an alert released Wednesday evening from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far, the germ has caused various infections in 55 people in 12 states, killing one and leaving others hospitalized and with permanent vision loss.

Infected patients reported using more than 10 brands of artificial tears collectively, with some patients using multiple brands. But the most common brand used among the patients was EzriCare Artificial Tears, a preservative-free product sold by Walmart, Amazon, and other retailers.

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Source: Ars Technica – Extremely drug-resistant germ found in eye drops infects 55 in 12 states; 1 dead

After 16 years of freeware, Dwarf Fortress creators get their $7M payday

Screen from Dwarf Fortress Steam release

Enlarge / The quirky work of two brothers’ lives has found a wider audience on Steam and Itchi.io, and now they have some breathing room. (credit: Bay 12 Games)

The month before Dwarf Fortress was released on Steam (and Itch.io), the brothers Zach and Tarn Adams made $15,635 in revenue, mostly from donations for their 16-year freeware project. The month after the game’s commercial debut, they made $7,230,123, or 462 times that amount.

“The fairytale ending is reality, but you didn’t kiss the toad,” Zach Adams wrote on Bay 12 Games’ forums. “You gave him money.” He went on to write the kind of grateful response to fans you don’t often see from game developers:

The appreciation you give us is part of our being now. It carries us in the cars we drive. It sustains us as the food that we eat. There is now no longer any existence except the one that you have provided. When we pass from this world, you will be the reason we are remembered.

Tarn Adams noted that “a little less than half will go to taxes,” and that other people and expenses must be paid. But enough of it will reach the brothers themselves that “we’ve solved the main issues of health/retirement that are troubling for independent people.” It also means that Putnam, a longtime modder and scripter and community member, can continue their work on the Dwarf Fortress code base, having been hired in December.

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Source: Ars Technica – After 16 years of freeware, Dwarf Fortress creators get their M payday

Squid skin inspires novel “liquid windows” for greater energy savings

Artist’s impression of prototype

Enlarge / Artist’s impression of a “liquid window’ prototype inspired by the structure of squid skin. (credit: Raphael Kay, Adrian So)

Squid and several other cephalopods can rapidly shift the colors in their skin, thanks to that skin’s unique structure. Engineers at the University of Toronto have drawn inspiration from the squid to create a prototype for “liquid windows” that can shift the wavelength, intensity, and distribution of light transmitted through those windows, thereby saving substantially on energy costs. They described their work in a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Buildings use a ton of energy to heat, cool, and illuminate the spaces inside them,” said co-author Raphael Kay. “If we can strategically control the amount, type, and direction of solar energy that enters our buildings, we can massively reduce the amount of work that we ask heaters, coolers, and lights to do.” Kay likes to think of buildings as living organisms that also have “skin,” i.e., an outer layer of exterior facades and windows. But these features are largely static, limiting how much the building “system” can be optimized in changing ambient conditions.

Installing blinds that can open and close is a crude means of easing the load on lighting and heating/cooling systems. Electrochromatic windows that change their opacity when a voltage is applied are a more sophisticated option. But, per Kay, these systems are pricey and have complicated manufacturing processes and a limited range of opacities. Nor is it possible to shade one part of a windowpane but not another.

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Source: Ars Technica – Squid skin inspires novel “liquid windows” for greater energy savings

Razer’s $280 mouse is covered in gaping holes 

Razer Viper Mini Signature Edition mouse top-down view

Enlarge (credit: Razer)

There are a lot of cookie-cutter mice that, though made by different manufacturers, have the same shapes and features but rely on mild changes in color or sensor specs to differentiate themselves. So when Razer announced the Viper Mini Signature Edition (SE) today, a wireless mouse that looks like it forgot to get dressed, we took notice.

The Viper Mini SE uses a magnesium alloy chassis “exoskeleton,” as Razer describes it. Lines of dark gray stretch across the mouse’s palm area, creating a web-like design and bold, gaping holes. Razer’s using an extreme take on the honeycomb design, which has holes drilled into a mouse’s chassis to reduce weight. However, the typical honeycomb mouse, like the Glorious Model I, has many more holes that are smaller, while the Viper Mini SE has holes that are so big, it looks like you could poke your finger through them.

At first look, I was immediately concerned about the mouse’s durability. Despite what Razer claims, I still think I’m more likely to break a mouse with 18 holes in it than one with none. Large openings can also attract dust and debris, but bigger holes should make the mouse easier to clean with an air blower than a honeycomb mouse topped with more, smaller openings.

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Source: Ars Technica – Razer’s 0 mouse is covered in gaping holes 

ISP admits lying to FCC about size of network to block funding to rivals

Illustration shows the shadow of a hand over the FCC's broadband availability map.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

Ryan Grewell, who runs a small wireless Internet service provider in Ohio, last month received an email that confirmed some of his worst suspicions about cable companies.

Grewell, founder and general manager of Smart Way Communications, had heard from some of his customers that the Federal Communications Commission’s new broadband map falsely claimed fiber Internet service was available at their homes from another company called Jefferson County Cable. Those customer reports spurred Grewell to submit a number of challenges to the FCC in an attempt to correct errors in Smart Way’s service area.

One of Grewell’s challenges elicited a response from Jefferson County Cable executive Bob Loveridge, who apparently thought Grewell was a resident at the challenged address rather than a competitor.

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Source: Ars Technica – ISP admits lying to FCC about size of network to block funding to rivals

Anker’s Eufy admits unencrypted videos could be accessed, plans overhaul

Eufy cameras

Enlarge / Anker’s Eufy division has said its web portal was not designed for end-to-end encryption and could allow outside access with the right URL. (credit: Eufy)

After two months of arguing back and forth with critics about how so many aspects of its “No clouds” security cameras could be accessed online by security researchers, Anker smart home division Eufy has provided a lengthy explanation and promises to do better.

In multiple responses to The Verge, which has repeatedly called out Eufy for failing to address key aspects of its security model, Eufy has plainly stated that video streams produced by its cameras could be accessed, unencrypted, through the Eufy web portal, despite messaging and marketing that suggested otherwise. Eufy also stated it would bring in penetration testers, commission an independent security researcher’s report, create a bug bounty program, and better detail its security protocols.

Prior to late November 2022, Eufy had enjoyed a distinguished place among smart home security providers. For those willing to trust any company with video feeds and other home data, Eufy marketed itself as offering “No Clouds or Costs,” with encrypted feeds streamed only to local storage.

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Source: Ars Technica – Anker’s Eufy admits unencrypted videos could be accessed, plans overhaul

Carbon capture is here—it just isn’t evenly distributed

Image of a large white cylinder with associated pipes.

Enlarge / The tank on the right is one of a half-dozen in which carbon dioxide is separated from other gasses by a compression/decompression cycle. (credit: John Timmer)

Global emissions have continued to burn through the carbon budget, meaning each year brings us closer to having put enough CO2 in the atmosphere that we’ll be committed to over 2°C of warming. That makes developing carbon-capture technology essential, both to bring atmospheric levels down after we overshoot and to offset emissions from any industries we struggle to decarbonize.

But so far, little progress has been made toward carbon capture beyond a limited number of demonstration projects. That situation is beginning to change, though, as some commercial ventures start to either find uses for the carbon dioxide or offer removal as a service for companies with internal emissions goals. And the Biden administration recently announced its intention to fund several large capture facilities.

But I recently visited a very different carbon-capture facility, one that’s small enough to occupy the equivalent of a handful of parking spaces in the basement of a New York City apartment tower. Thanks to a local law, it’s likely to be the first of many. CarbonQuest, the company that installed it, already has commitments from several more buildings, and New York City’s law is structured so that the inducement to install similar systems will grow over time.

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Source: Ars Technica – Carbon capture is here—it just isn’t evenly distributed

Cash-strapped Twitter to start charging developers for API access next week

Cash-strapped Twitter to start charging developers for API access next week

Enlarge (credit: SOPA Images / Contributor | LightRocket)

In the middle of the night, Twitter made an announcement that disappointed a wide range of developers whose research, bots, and apps depend on free access to the platform’s API to function. Twitter announced in a tweet that starting on February 9, Twitter “will no longer support free access to the Twitter API.” Instead, many developers will have to either pay to access public data or abruptly shut down their projects.

Twitter has not yet shared how much its new “paid basic tier” will cost, and the company has only vaguely promised “more details on what you can expect next week.” Thousands of small developers may have to shut down free tools like @ThreadReaderApp or @RemindMe_ofThis, the Verge reported, impacting hundreds of thousands of followers who rely on small developers to build tools that help maximize their engagement with the platform.

Entrepreneur and developer Tom Coates joined many developers protesting Twitter’s announcement. Coates tweeted that, while “it is not unreasonable to want to find a way to charge those developers who extract more value than they contribute” to Twitter, “one week’s notice and no indication of pricing shows Twitter is chaotic and unreliable. No one’s going to build a business on that.”

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Source: Ars Technica – Cash-strapped Twitter to start charging developers for API access next week

PS5 owners won’t get this set of free PS4 games for much longer

A look at the games available in the PlayStation Plus Collection, which will no longer be offered to PS5 subscribers as of May.

Enlarge / A look at the games available in the PlayStation Plus Collection, which will no longer be offered to PS5 subscribers as of May.

For over two years now, PlayStation Plus subscribers who owned a PS5 got access to the PlayStation Plus Collection, a set of 19 legacy PS4 games available for free download and play via the console’s backward compatibility. This week, Sony announced that it will be ending this subscriber benefit in May. Current PS5 owners will have until then to redeem their free games, which will remain available on their account as long as they stay subscribed to any of PlayStation Plus’ multiple tiers.

Hundreds of legacy PS4 games are still available for download as part of the higher-end PlayStation Plus “Extra” and “Premium” tiers (starting at $14.99/month or $99.99/year). That list includes many of the titles that were part of the PlayStation Plus Collection, including almost all of Sony’s first-party titles. But the PlayStation Plus Collection was also available at the cheapest “Essential” pricing tier ($9.99/month or $59.99/year).

The PlayStation Plus Collection served as a valuable introduction to legacy PlayStation franchises for PS5 owners who never owned a PS4. Sony said in an earnings release last night that such users made up a full 30 percent of the PS5’s monthly active users, suggesting that “the acquisition of new users is progressing,” as the company put it. Players who did upgrade from a PS4 to a PS5, meanwhile, are spending significantly more time and money on the new console on average, according to Sony.

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Source: Ars Technica – PS5 owners won’t get this set of free PS4 games for much longer

Enter the hunter satellites preparing for space war

Overhead shot of a satellite

Enlarge / True Anomaly’s satellites (not pictured) will spy on each other, using thrusters, radar, and multi-spectral cameras to approach within a few hundred meters. (credit: Getty Images)

Former US Air Force major Even “Jolly” Rogers is worried about a space war. “Conflict exists on a continuum that begins with competition and ultimately leads into full-scale conflict like what you’re seeing in Ukraine,” he says. The US, he adds, is already “in active competition with Russia and China for freedom of action and dominance of the space domain. And it’s evolving very quickly.”

So on January 26 last year, the former US Air Force major incorporated True Anomaly, Inc to “solve the most challenging orbital warfare problems for the US Space Force,” he later tweeted.

According to a recent filing with the US Federal Communication Commission (FCC), True Anomaly is now gearing up for its first orbital mission. In October, True Anomaly hopes to launch two Jackal “orbital pursuit” spacecraft aboard a SpaceX rocket to low earth orbit. The Jackals will not house guns, warheads, or laser blasters, but they will be capable of rendezvous proximity operations (RPO)—the ability to maneuver close to other satellites and train a battery of sensors upon them. This could reveal their rivals’ surveillance and weapons systems or help intercept communications.

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Source: Ars Technica – Enter the hunter satellites preparing for space war

Six new electric Volvos will debut by 2026

An illustration of an EV skateboard chassis

Enlarge / Modular architectures like SPA2 mean Volvo can build lots of different models using the same toolkit. (credit: Volvo)

In 2017 Volvo marked itself as something of a pioneer in the auto industry when then-CEO Hakan Samuelsson announced that the company would focus on electrification in the coming years, with a goal of selling a million electrified cars by 2025. It’s not doing too badly in that regard—already in 2021 a quarter of its sales were plug-in hybrids or battery-electric vehicles, and that grew to one in three during 2022.

But there’s plenty more to come. Today, Reuters reported that Volvo currently has six new EVs in development to go on sale by 2026.

We’ve already seen the first of these unveiled—the EX90 SUV. This will use Volvo’s new SPA2 architecture, to be built in South Carolina from next year, and features an advanced suite of sensors, including roof-mounted lidar.

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Source: Ars Technica – Six new electric Volvos will debut by 2026

Massive nursing degree scheme leads to hunt for 2,800 fraudulent nurses

A critical care nurse assists a patient.

Enlarge / A critical care nurse assists a patient. (credit: Getty | Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

More than 2,800 people may be working as nurses under false pretenses after allegedly buying a fake diploma for between $10,000 and $15,000 from a massive Florida-based scheme recently busted by federal investigators. State and federal authorities are now working to track down the alleged fraudulent nurses, and in some cases, immediately annulling their licenses.

Last week, the Department of Justice announced charges against 25 people in five states connected to the alleged scheme. The investigation, code-named Operation Nightingale, found evidence that the 25 defendants worked to sell more than 7,600 fake diplomas, along with transcripts, between 2016 and 2021, making over $100 million in the process. The fraudulent diplomas and transcripts were allegedly issued from three accredited Florida-based nursing schools: Siena College and Sacred Heart International Institute in Broward County and Palm Beach School of Nursing in Palm Beach County.

The three schools are now closed and the 25 defendants each face up to 20 years in prison.

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Source: Ars Technica – Massive nursing degree scheme leads to hunt for 2,800 fraudulent nurses

ChatGPT sets record for fastest-growing user base in history, report says

An artist's depiction of ChatGPT Plus.

Enlarge / A realistic artist’s depiction of an encounter with ChatGPT Plus. (credit: Benj Edwards / Ars Technica / OpenAI)

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that AI bot ChatGPT reached an estimated 100 million active monthly users last month, a mere two months from launch, making it the “fastest-growing consumer application in history,” according to a UBS investment bank research note. In comparison, TikTok took nine months to reach 100 million monthly users, and Instagram about 2.5 years, according to UBS researcher Lloyd Walmsley.

“In 20 years following the Internet space, we cannot recall a faster ramp in a consumer internet app,” Reuters quotes Walmsley as writing in the UBS note.

Reuters says the UBS data comes from analytics firm Similar Web, which states that around 13 million unique visitors used ChatGPT every day in January, doubling the number of users in December.

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Source: Ars Technica – ChatGPT sets record for fastest-growing user base in history, report says

Teasing out the secret recipes for mummification in ancient Egypt

Illustration of an embalming scene in an underground chamber.

Enlarge / Illustration of an embalming scene in an underground chamber. (credit: Nikola Nevenov)

Most of what we know about ancient Egyptian mummification techniques comes from a few ancient texts. In addition to a text called The Ritual of Embalming, Greek historian Herodotus mentions the use of natron to dehydrate the body in his Histories. But there are very few details about the specific spices, oils, resins, and other ingredients used. Fortunately, science is helping fill in the gaps. A team of researchers used molecular analysis to identify several basic ingredients used in mummification, according to a new paper published in the journal Nature.

Egyptian embalming is thought to have started in the Predynastic Period or even earlier, when people noticed that the arid heat of the sand tended to dry and preserve bodies buried in the desert. Eventually, the idea of preserving the body after death worked its way into Egyptian religious beliefs. When people began to bury the dead in rock tombs, away from the desiccating sand, they used chemicals like natron salt and plant-based resins for embalming.

The procedure typically began by laying the corpse on a table, removing the internal organs—except for the heart. Per Herodotus, “They first draw out part of the brain through the nostrils with an iron hook, and inject certain drugs into the rest” to liquefy the remaining brain matter.

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Source: Ars Technica – Teasing out the secret recipes for mummification in ancient Egypt

Unofficial Link to the Past PC port is a reverse-engineered gem

Zelda running on a Windows PC window with a file directory next to it.

Enlarge / Among the many upgrades made possible by this project, A Link to the Past is now a game you can Alt+Tab out of when a supervisor comes near. (credit: Nintendo / Kevin Purdy)

It’s a sad reality among retro emulation enthusiasts: You often spend far more time crafting your perfect setup than playing the games. You get your controller, linear filtering, sound engine, and everything else just right, and then you discover that your favorite game of yesteryear is far slower and more annoying than you remember.

That’s why the hard work of reverse engineers is so valuable. Hobbyist decompilers have worked to turn ROM binaries into thousands of lines of human-readable code, allowing for far deeper audiovisual upgrades, features, and other tweaks. It’s resulted in some impressive new takes on games, including Ocarina of Time, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Grand Theft Auto. And unlike many fan-based projects, reverse engineering generally passes legal muster as long as no copyrighted assets are distributed along with the decompiled code.

And they often far outshine game publishers’ official offerings, which usually amount to little more than officially licensed, lightly tweaked emulation.

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Source: Ars Technica – Unofficial Link to the Past PC port is a reverse-engineered gem

Bethesda’s Redfall needs to be online for single-player mode

Artist's conception of a single player (foreground) trying to access <em>Redfall</em> without an Internet connection.

Enlarge / Artist’s conception of a single player (foreground) trying to access Redfall without an Internet connection.

Bethesda’s upcoming supernatural shooter Redfall will require “a persistent online connection,” even for the single-player experience. That’s according to an FAQ posted by Bethesda last week, which also confirms that players will need an active Bethesda.net account to play the game.

Many modern single-player games require an online check-in (or even a text message confirmation) the first time they’re launched, and some require periodic online anti-piracy checks. Games that require a persistent online connection for solo play are rarer, though significant exceptions do exist.

While Bethesda has not responded to a request for comment on the decision, game publishers often cite piracy or cheating concerns as reasons to require players to connect to the Internet for solo play. In 2013, for instance, Blizzard’s Mike Morhaime said an online connection was “critical to the long-term integrity of the game experience” for Diablo III and its controversial (and later removed) real-money auction house.

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Source: Ars Technica – Bethesda’s Redfall needs to be online for single-player mode

Up to 29,000 unpatched QNAP storage devices are sitting ducks to ransomware

Up to 29,000 unpatched QNAP storage devices are sitting ducks to ransomware

As many as 29,000 network storage devices manufactured by Taiwan-based QNAP are vulnerable to hacks that are easy to carry out and give unauthenticated users on the Internet complete control, a security firm has warned.

The vulnerability, which carries a severity rating of 9.8 out of a possible 10, came to light on Monday, when QNAP issued a patch and urged users to install it. Tracked as CVE-2022-27596, the vulnerability makes it possible for remote hackers to perform a SQL injection, a type of attack that targets web applications that use the Structured Query Language. SQL injection vulnerabilities are exploited by entering specially crafted characters or scripts into the search fields, login fields, or URLs of a buggy website. The injections allow for the modifying, stealing, or deleting of data or the gaining of administrative control over the systems running the vulnerable apps.

QNAP’s advisory on Monday said that network-attached storage devices running QTS versions before 5.0.1.2234 and QuTS Hero versions prior to h5.0.1.2248 were vulnerable. The post also provided instructions for updating to the patched versions.

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Source: Ars Technica – Up to 29,000 unpatched QNAP storage devices are sitting ducks to ransomware

Netflix stirs fears by using AI-assisted background art in short anime film

A still image from the short film

Enlarge / A still image from the short film Dog and Boy,, which uses image synthesis to help generate background artwork. (credit: Netflix)

Over the past year, generative AI has kicked off a wave of existential dread over potential machine-fueled job loss not seen since the advent of the industrial revolution. On Tuesday, Netflix reinvigorated that fear when it debuted a short film called Dog and Boy that utilizes AI image synthesis to help generate its background artwork.

Directed by Ryotaro Makihara, the three-minute animated short follows the story of a boy and his robotic dog through cheerful times, although the story soon takes a dramatic turn toward the post-apocalyptic. Along the way, it includes lush backgrounds apparently created as a collaboration between man and machine, credited to “AI (+Human)” in the end credit sequence.

In the announcement tweet, Netflix cited an industry labor shortage as the reason for using the image synthesis technology:

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Source: Ars Technica – Netflix stirs fears by using AI-assisted background art in short anime film

(Most of) AMD’s gaming-centric Ryzen 7000 X3D CPUs launch February 28

AMD has announced pricing and availability for its newest 3D V-Cache desktop CPUs.

Enlarge / AMD has announced pricing and availability for its newest 3D V-Cache desktop CPUs. (credit: AMD)

AMD’s pumped-up, 3D V-Cache-equipped Ryzen 7000 desktop processors will be available to buy on February 28, the company announced today. The rollout will start with the 12-core Ryzen 9 7900X3D and the 16-core Ryzen 9 7950X3D, which will start at $599 and $699, respectively. A cheaper model, the eight-core Ryzen 7 7800X3D, will be available for $449 but won’t launch until April 6.

All of these CPUs are successors to the original Ryzen 7 5800X3D, and their sales pitch is similar. AMD is stacking 64MB of additional L3 cache on top of the regular Ryzen 7000 CPUs, which can provide a big performance bump for software (like games) that is especially sensitive to cache sizes and speeds.

These prices are actually not all that much higher than the launch prices for the original Ryzen 7000 CPUs back in August—the 7950X3D has the same launch price as the 7950X, and the 7900X3D and 7800X3D are only $50 more expensive than their counterparts. But prices have come down a lot since then; the 7950X usually costs between $550 and $600 now, and non-X-series CPUs like the Ryzen 7 7700 and Ryzen 9 7950 are even cheaper. The X3D chips’ prices will eventually come down, too, but they’re still significantly more expensive than the versions without the extra cache.

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Source: Ars Technica – (Most of) AMD’s gaming-centric Ryzen 7000 X3D CPUs launch February 28

Won’t somebody please think of the insects?!

image of a yellow and blue butterfly perched on a plant.

Enlarge / This butterfly is also referred to as the Cairns Birdwing. (credit: Jodi Jacobson)

Nearly 17 percent, or 22.5 million square kilometers, of the world’s land now falls within protected areas. Countries have established laws that safeguard these parcels of land—or in some cases, aquatic areas—to ensure that the natural ecosystems and their respective species and functions remain in good health. Creating protected areas has clearly helped some species, like the Asian elephant, survive.

But protected areas around the globe—at least as they stood in 2019—are failing to account for some of the world’s smallest, most vulnerable, and most fundamentally icky denizens: insects. New research sheds light on this issue, suggesting more than three-quarters of known insect species are not adequately protected by current dedicated conservation areas.

According to Shawan Chowdhury, a conservation biologist at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and one of the paper’s authors, there are also likely many more species of creepy crawlies we don’t know about and that are likely also being failed by existing protected areas.

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Source: Ars Technica – Won’t somebody please think of the insects?!