Spiders Falling From The Sky?!

It’s time for the Fun Kids Science Weekly, the weekly podcast that opens your minds to the most amazing things in the universe!

Dr George McGavin has been all around the world exploring insects and discovering new species – he joins us on this week’s episode.

Professor Hallux and Nurse Nanabot are back this week too and they have all the information for us about vaccines and how they work!

Also this week we’re exploring the cretaceous climate in Age of the Dinosaurs, finding out about cuts and scars and how stars shine!

A toxic fart is the subject of Dangerous Dan and in Science in the News, there’s news of spiders falling from the sky in the USA!

MOBILE: Fun Kids Science Weekly

The science podcast for kids with Dan exploring the weirdest and coolest stuff in science!

Here’s the episode below:


Dan: Hello and welcome to the world famous Fun Kids Science Weekly. That means it’s the part of the week where we open our minds to search out all the secrets lurking around the universe. My name is Dan. Thank you for being there on this journey to find all the most amazing things that we’ve never heard of before. Some real belters on today’s show as well. This week, we’re chatting to an insect expert who has travelled all around the world, exploring jungles and finding new insects.

Dr George McGavin: I’ve seen the world’s biggest Spider, which is about the size – if I hold my two hands out, it would sit sort of comfortably across my hand.

Dan: Also, you can hear how medicine gets inside your body to make you better with Professor Hallux!

Nurse: Their immune system will recognise it and immediately produce the antibodies needed to fight it.

Dan: And we’ll travel back in time to the Age of the Dinosaurs to have a look at Cretaceous climate, too.

Narrator: As the land broke apart, dinosaur species became separated from one another and had to adapt to new and different environments, from wet, cold and rainy to hot and dry.

Dan: There’s all that and loads more, including your questions in a brand new Fun Kids Science Weekly.

Science in The News: Spiders Falling From the Sky, Shackleton’s Ship Found, and a Spaceport in the Shetlands

Dan: Let’s kick things off this week with your science in the news. Terrifying one to start us off, scientists are predicting that giant spiders will fall from the sky across America this summer. The Joro Spider comes from Japan originally.It’s yellow, blue, black and red. It’s got tiny fangs, so it can’t really do any damage. And it’s travelled over to the United States on boats by accident. And these spiders, they’re known for getting caught in the wind, flung into the sky and then floating back down to Earth.

Also, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s lost ship, the one that he used to sail to Antarctica, the South Pole back in 1915, has been found. The Explorer sailed there but was soon crushed by sea ice and he and the crew had to make a dramatic escape. And experts have searched for the missing boat for years. And finally, they found it under three kilometres of water. It’s been there for a century and it looks almost exactly the same. And it’s now home to some squat lobsters, which have confused the scientists.

And finally, a spaceport in the UK might finally get to be built. It’s happening on the Shetland Islands, which is on the north tip of Scotland. It’s on a place called Unst. They’ve finally been given the go ahead. And when that spaceport is built, rockets can fly to space from the UK for the very first time.

It’s time to catch up with Professor Hallux now. He is a genius. Every week he’s here with his good mate, good pal, nurse Nana Bot, and they’re having a look at what happens inside your body. This is from his Map of Medicine series, where he’s looking at what makes you sick and then how you get better again. And in the last few weeks, we’ve looked at surgery and dentists and in this episode, it’s all about vaccinations. And we’ve heard a lot about vaccinations over the last couple of years, haven’t we? Why are they so important? Let’s find out.

Professor Hallux’s Map of Medicine – Mission 4: Vaccinations

Professor Hallux: There’s a good boy. This way. Come on. Hold out your hand. No, that’s your foot. This is impossible!

Nurse: What on Earth is going on here?

Professor Hallux: It’s Body. He wants to go outside, but he won’t put his mittens on. I thought I would take him out to the local park today, introduce him to the slide and swings and then perhaps take him along to choose a pet.

Nurse: Has he had his vaccinations, Professor? If he’s going to be out and about, it would be a very good idea.

Professor Hallux: Vaccinations. Good point. You tell them about vaccinations, or immunisations, as they’re sometimes called. Oh, dear. Body seems to think the coffee table is a hat. Get that off you great lummox!

Nurse: Vaccines are medicines normally given by injection and they’re designed to protect you from some very serious diseases. A bit like a shield protects a knight in battle. Vaccinations work by stimulating your immune system to produce antibodies, which are substances produced by the body to fight disease without us actually becoming infected with the disease. So if the vaccinated person then comes into contact with the disease itself, their immune system will recognise it and immediately produce the antibodies needed to fight it.

Professor Hallux: Now, not many people really like injections. They can sting for a moment and they might make your arm feel a bit sore. But vaccinations are one of the greatest breakthroughs in modern medicine. Because of vaccination, we no longer see some of the most terrible diseases, like smallpox. That was very nasty.

Nurse: If you’re going for a vaccination and are a bit worried about the injection, the tip is, if you’re worried, to ask the person doing it to distract you.

Professor Hallux: Look over there! It’s a UFO!

Nurse: Well, yes, that might work, but you could just tell them about your favourite toy or what you had for breakfast.

Professor Hallux: Uh-oh, talking of breakfast, looks like Body’s hungry now. He’s blundering towards the fridge.

Nurse: Don’t worry, I’ll find him something to chew on.

Come over here, you big softy. I’ve got some lovely sausages.

Professor Hallux: You might get a vaccination from your doctor, a nurse or even from a health visitor. Come to think about it, I’ve just uploaded some info about health visitors to my map of medicine. It’s a mine of information on medical people and places. Let’s check it out.

If you’ve got a little brother or sister, you’ll know small children can be hard work. There’s all the crying and the shouting and the tantrums. And that’s just your parents. Sorry, of course I meant the baby. And before you know it, the baby is a toddler chewing your favourite books and breaking your train track. It’s a lot of hard work being a big brother or sister. Yeah, I bet you can relate to that one, can’t you? Toddlers love wrecking train tracks. So annoying.

So looking after kids can be tough. That’s where health visitors come in, right into your house sometimes. They’re community nurses who are trained to support families with children, making sure everyone is safe, healthy and happy. This could be making sure you and your brothers and sisters get the vaccinations you need, or helping your parents get the baby to sleep. Although if the baby snores like that, you might want to cheque that it isn’t actually a baby rhino. Blimey. It sounds like a rhino’s loose in here. Bodies blundering about again, nurse, any disgusting details for us today whilst I stop him stepping in the freezer?

Nurse: Of course.

Health visitors are experts at offering advice to new parents. And a good job too, because the advice given to Mums and Dads about how to settle their babies has certainly changed over the years.

One piece of very silly advice from the past was to rub whiskey or brandy on the baby’s gums if they were teething. This is dangerously disastrous because these are alcoholic drinks which are not suitable for children. Even small amounts of alcohol can be harmful.

Professor Hallux: Madness! What were they thinking? Right, time for us to go. But before you join us again, why not explore Map of Medicine for yourself?

Answering Your Questions – Why do we get Scars? And Why and How do Stars Shine?

Dan: Let’s answer some of your questions then. I love this part of the show. If there’s ever anything sciencey rattling around your brain that you just can’t figure out, you can’t put two and two together, well, let me know and I will do all that science digging for you. We always learn some incredible things that you remember for a long time. First up this week is from Harry in Tenerife, who wants to know why when you get cut, sometimes you heal fine, but other times you get scars.

Now, pretty much every cut scars to a point, Harry, but some are so small that you can’t really tell they’re there. The body’s way of healing itself when it splits open is to make cells called fibroblasts. And these make a protein called collagen, which you might have heard of. They get to work and they make new skin. Now, normally skin is made quite slowly, but when you get cut, your body needs to get to work quickly. It sends in a rapid response team to deal with the disaster and it makes this newer, different type of skin. That’s why it looks different. And the bigger the cut, the more new skin there is. So the more you notice the scar.

person's left palm with bandage

Also this week, here’s one from Rosie in Kendall, who wants to know why and how do stars shine? Well, remember, Rosie, the sun that’s in our solar system, that us and all the other planets are flinging around and around right now, that’s a star just like all the others. And stars are big balls of gas and there’s lots of different gases in there. And because they’re so huge, they have a lot of gravity. They suck everything towards the middle of it. All the stuff is constantly travelling towards the middle. All the gases get closer to the centre and there’s so much going on, there’s so much friction, there’s so much bumping into each other. It makes all the gases heat up. And that creates a very smart bit of science called nuclear fusion.

Nuclear fusion is when two atoms, two tiny bits of stuff, merge together to make something new. And that process, when they join, it gives off so much energy that it burns bright and light and hot. And that’s what makes stars shine. It’s this nuclear fusion that’s happening all the time, so they always shine. Rosie, thank you for the question. If there’s something you would like answered next week, it could not be easier. Get yourself to the Apple podcast store. Find us, leave me your name so I can say hello. Five Stars helps me see it as well. There’s a little comment box at the bottom and that is where you leave your question. I can’t wait to see yours next week.

A close-up photo of the bright center of a star cluster.

Interview with Dr. George McGaving

Dan: It’s the Fun Kids Science Weekly. This week we’re talking bugs with someone called one of the world’s best insect experts. Dr George McGavin has been all around the world, from the tropical forests in Papua New Guinea, the caves of Thailand, the jungles of Belize. He’s been all over the place looking for creepy crawlies. He’s even had loads of species named after him. Let’s find out more. He joins us. Dr George McGavin, thank you for being there.

Dr. George McGavin: My pleasure.

Dan: Now, how did you decide that you wanted to dedicate so much of your life to looking at creepy crawlies?

Dr. George McGavin: Well, it started very young. I mean, I was always interested in the natural world. At school, I didn’t really want to do anything else except be outside. I enjoyed English and other things, but really, for me, biology was the main event.

It wasn’t until I did my degree at Edinburgh, when I did my degree in zoology, that I realised that actually the majority of the words world’s animals are insects. So it’s like if you don’t understand the insects, you don’t really understand much.

Dan: What were the first insects that really made you fall in love with them, where you realised, my word, there is so much to these creatures?

Dr. George McGavin: Well, I suppose I always found them interesting, but as I say in my biology degree at Edinburgh University, we went off on a field course to the West Coast of Scotland and all my classmates were looking for Badgers and Owls and Eagles and slow worms and not finding them because large animals are quite hard to find, really. But at our feet there were literally hundreds of thousands of ants doing what I thought were remarkably interesting things. And I actually thought at that time I thought, well, why aren’t we finding out about these guys? Because it seems that these are the main event.

And in fact, insects have been around on Earth for a very long time. They were the first animals on land, they were the first animals into the air. They predate vertebrates by a very long time. So we, of course, are new kids on the block. So I think everybody should find out a little bit more about Earth’s inhabitants. And by that I mean the majority of Earth’s inhabitants, which are creepy crawlies.

Dan: Well, let’s do that now. How do we do that, George? So if we’re at home right now, what’s the best way that we can find maybe a more interesting creature in our back garden than just the humble Ant?

black ant on green leaf

Dr. George McGavin: Well, there is nothing more interesting than a humble Ant, and I guess I can tell you, but of course, we’re just coming out of winter. It’s not been easy to find bugs and beetles, and I include spiders as well, because they are very interesting. But spring is just around the corner. The first early spring Queen Bees are emerging and they will be feeding at some of the very early spring flowers. So it’s beginning to hot up.

And this, for me, is the most exciting time of year. This is when the world is reborn, is renewed, and we can almost think of ourselves as having a second chance. Winters pass. So this year I think every kid with a passing interest in natural history should get out there with a hand lens a times ten hand lens is one of the most important things you can buy. And they’re not expensive. I’ve had a couple over my time.

Dan: Yeah, you’ve got one there now. Just run us through it.

Dr. George McGavin: Yeah. This is a ten times hand lens. It’s quite small and this will open up a whole world of wonder to you. You can use it for flowers, for fungi, for insects. And if you’ve got a little bit of wood in your fingernail or in your finger, you can use the handle to extract. It’s incredibly cheap. You can buy them for as little as five or Β£6. If you want to go for this top end model, press about 15 or Β£20. So if you’ve got a birthday coming up, I would definitely ask for a times ten hand lens, which you can keep in your pocket, and it will be with you for the rest of your life.

Dan: Always ready to look for those bugs. It’s a very tiny magnifying glass, is how it looks. Perfect. Something you can put on a key chain for your mum and dad. Well, say this, George, we’ve got the hand lens, we’ve whipped it out. What clues are we looking for? That might show us there’s a bug nearby.

Dr. George McGavin: Well, obviously hunting for bugs, you don’t have to go charging about with an insect collecting net. Visual examination is very good. You will see flowers, you will see insects on flowers. A handful of soil will reveal a lot more things. Lots of insects spend their time as a larvae in the soil. So get a small sieve and just get a handful of soil and just see what you can find in there.

One of my favourite things to do, of course, is a decaying log. Now, this is one of the most important microhabitats on there. And after the storms we’ve had, of course, there are lots of big trees have fallen down and I hope people just leave them where they are. Obviously, if they’re on a road, it’s not so good you want to move it off the road or a path. But in forests and woodlands, leave the wood to rot down naturally. And it might come as a surprise to learn that one third of the rarest insects in Europe grow as larvae in decaying wood. So that’s a massive resource which insects use. And peeling back a bit of bark or rolling over a log is just one of the most exciting things you can do on a walk.

So when you go out for a walk with your parents or on your own, don’t go power walking. Or if you want to get exercise, I suppose you do have to power walk, but go walk slowly. That’s what I see. Keep your head down, look at what’s around you. Look under logs. If I turn over a log and it’s got some great things under it, I can be there for half an hour. An hour. All my friends have disappeared and I’m still there with my hand lens because that’s where the real action is taking place.

wooden log on ground surrounded by green grass

Dan: It’s incredible that these things can be all around us and we don’t really know what’s going on. Well, listen, George, you’ve travelled all around the world, as I said, looking for creatures and creepy crawlies. And I would imagine that you’ve seen some pretty amazing and interesting creatures that we could never even dream of. So just if you can take us through a few of the stranger creatures that you’ve found in your hunts.

Dr. George McGavin: Well, it’s true. I mean, I have been very fortunate in being able to go to rainforests, particularly. And of course, rainforests are the premier habitat on there. This is where you will find, actually more than half of all species on Earth. Plus, you’ll find things that have never been seen before. And I’ve seen everything from giant butterflies and moths the size of a soup plate to giant crickets. I’ve seen things that might lay eggs in your skin, if you’re not careful. I mean, some fantastic spiders. I’ve seen the world’s biggest spider, which is about the size. If I hold my two hands out, it would sit sort of comfortably across my hand there.

I’ve seen some amazing scorpions, but actually not everything that’s big is interesting. There’s some very interesting small insects. And I found a completely new species of spider once on a trip. You might think that’s amazing, but actually it’s not. We’ve only named about a million species on Earth and we’re pretty sure that there are somewhere in the region of 8 million undescribed, so unknown species. And they are mainly found in really hot, steamy jungles. And that is where you have to go if you want to find a new species. That is your best place to go.

Dan: But George, when you see this spider, how do you know that’s a new species? What do you have to do? Is there like a quick information on your phone, like a little encyclopaedia and you scan it. How does that work?

Dr. George McGavin: Well, these days there’s a lot more information out there. And when I started the course, it was very difficult that there was no internet. You just had to find out the long winded way. But these days there are field guides and there are things on the internet. But for a new species, well, it’s a tricky one when you find, say you find a new horse-fly Dan on a trip somewhere and you thought, well, that looks a bit unusual.

There are only 4000 horse-flies in the world and you might be a bit of an expert. You might have seen a fair few of them. You might be a specialist in horse-flies and you might think, well, that’s not like any of the ones I’ve ever seen. Well, you would have to compare what you collected with all sorts of other horse-flies, so everything that had appeared in print. You might have to contact institutions and museums and compare your specimen to all known horse flies. That’s the way it goes. And then you might decide, yeah, well, I’m pretty sure this is undescribed. This is a new species of horse-fly. You would then describe it in detail. It would have to appear in a journal, in print and you would have to hand it a name. And at that point, once it appears in print, it is sort of accepted as a new species.

Well, this particular spider I saw was so strange looking, it looks just like an ant. And I was pretty sure from the stuff I’ve seen on these particular spiders that it was new and I hadn’t seen it in any book or any internet paper or Museum collection. And I just thought, I bet that’s new and it was in fact new. But that’s not really a surprise in the jungle because probably every fifth or sixth thing you find might well be undescribed.

Dan: Wow, it’s been so amazing to just tap into your travels just a little bit. Listen, I really enjoyed having you on. Dr. George McGavin, thank you for joining us.

Dr George McGavin: Thank you very much.

Dangerous Dan – Beaded Lacewing

Dan: It’s time for this week’s Dangerous Dan, where we look at some of the most mean, evil and cruel things in the universe.

This time out, it’s all about an insect with a death fart. Oh, you heard that right. By the way, we’ll come to that in a second. It’s all about the Beaded Lacewing, which is a moth-like insect. It’s got pinkish grey wings, it’s got long antenna. They’re quite small and they balance on leaves. Now the adults are delicate, lovely. They’re very nice. It’s the babies that you need to be watching for. They’re ferocious predators with an incredible way of getting prey. The larvae, they lurk in the nest of termites and they need food. They need food to grow. So they need to stun the termites to eat them, to knock them out. And they do that with toxic farts.

These farts are powerful enough to stun six termites in one blow. It’s got loads of methane in the farts and that does the damage. And when it farts out, this toxic to the termites are knocked out for 3 hours. And the beaded lacewing goes to town. It tucks in and eats the termites that have been felled by ferocious farts. And that reason is why the beaded lacewing goes straight onto our Dangerous Dan list.

Age of the Dinosaurs – Cretaceous Period: Climate

Dan: It’s time to travel back to the Age of the Dinosaurs. Now, for the last few weeks with this series, we’ve been looking at the Cretaceous Period. It’s a time when more and more dinosaurs and wildlife were living together than ever before. It was about 145,000,000 years ago. There was so much happening all around the world. But was the weather like?

Narrator: Imagine going back in time, not 100 years or 1000 years, but millions of years to the age of the dinosaur. About 145,000,000 years ago, the Jurassic period ended and the Cretaceous began. More dinosaurs lived during the Cretaceous period than any other. In fact, the world offered a wider variety of environments and species than before.

Child: Uhoh, on the move again.

Narrator: Hold on tight. Whilst the two main continents, Laurasia and Gondwana, had been slowly moving apart for millennia during the Cretaceous period, they began to break up to form the continents we know today. Oceans still covered most of the planet and many low lying areas were underwater. At this time, you wouldn’t have been able to travel from one side of America to the other without a boat. There was a shallow ocean in the middle. As the land broke apart, dinosaur species became separated from one another and had to adapt to new and different environments. From wet, cold and rainy to hot and dry.

There were still leafy forests where huge plant eaters like Muttaburrasaurus would graze. Muttaburrasaurus, which was eight metres long, lived in what is now Australia, and ate plants like cycads and ferns. And because the range of plant life increased substantially during the Cretaceous Period. There was more to be eaten. Including the first plants with flowers.

Child: It’s really hot here.

Narrator: Other parts of the world were much drier like the deserts today. Dinosaur fossils found in the Gobi Desert in East Asia show animals in the deserts then, just like now, had to be tough to survive. Like the fierce predator Velociraptor.

Child: There’s a pack of them. Quick, let’s hide!

Narrator: Velociraptors were agile dinosaurs. About the same height as a man. They ran on their back legs and had sharp teeth for tearing their prey. It’s believed that they hunted in packs and had a feathery coat. They may have hunted Protoceratops, a tough quadruped. That means four-legged animal, also found in the Asian continent. He was an early relative of famous horned dinosaurs like Triceratops. But much smaller. Less than two metres long with a bony frill on the back of his skull. Probably for display. And a very tough skin that would have been difficult to penetrate.

Unlike his later relatives, Protoceratops lacked horns. To help him eat, he had a sharp beak-like mouth rather like a parrot’s for slicing through the driest and hardest vegetation. To help make sense of all the different types of dinosaurs. Palaeontologists classify each species. Classifying means sorting them into groups on the basis of their similarities such as type of skeleton or behaviour. It’s even possible to work out the dinosaur family trees by classification.

Dan: You can hear loads more of our Age of the Dinosaurs series whenever you like over funkidslive.com and in the free Fun Kids App.

And that is it for this week’s Science Weekly. Just like Age of the Dinosaurs and Professor Hallux earlier on we’ve got tonnes of brilliant smaller podcast series that you can listen to whenever you’re fancy.

They’re on Apple, they’re on Google, they’re on Spotify. They’re on the free Fun Kids app and at funkidslive.com.

And Fun Kids, we are children’s radio station from the UK. Listen to us all over the country on your DAB digital radio, on that free Fun Kids app and at funkidslive.com.

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