The Deadliest Fart in the Animal Kingdom!

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

Ben Garrod, presenter, biologist and author joins us to chat about the animals that no longer exist and those that are currently endangered this week!

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

Dan also answers your questions this week on how glasses work and much more!

Also this week we’re exploring the cretaceous plants in Age of the Dinosaurs, finding out about how they kept dinosaur predators at bay through poison, stinky smells and sticky slime!

Another toxic fart is the subject of Dangerous Dan this week and in Science in the News, there’s more news of the James Webb Telescope in space!

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:

Introduction

Dan: Hello. Welcome along. It’s a brand new episode of the Fun Kids Science Weekly, by far the smartest podcast in the history of the universe. And it’s billions of years old. We’ve got awards to prove it. It shows you what you’ve stumbled across here. Well done. Let’s go explore the Galaxy, shall we? This week we’re travelling back in time to the age of the dinosaurs to look not at the deadly beasts, but at the plants this time out.

Narrator: With more animals around, plants had to get clever, too. Some grew spikes, others developed poisons or unpleasant tastes to put herbivores off eating them.

Child: Watch out, something massive is on the move.

Dan: Also, we’ll chat to the amazing, the genius, biologist Ben Garrod about some dangerous creatures that aren’t around anymore.

Ben Garrod: It’s skeleton was made of this rubbery, flexible material called cartilage, the same stuff you get in your ears and your nose. So it’s hard to rebuild the skeletons of Sharks they don’t preserve in the same way that our bones do, or even a T-rex, for example, or even something like a Smilodon or a Dimetrodon, which have more bone based skeletons. However, we can still recreate what those animals look like.

Dan: And for this week’s Dangerous Dan we’ve got another animal with ferocious farts. Plus, your questions all on the way in a brand new Fun Kids Science Weekly.

Science in the News – The James Webb Space Telescope, An Expensive Meteorite, And Shackleton Remembrance Ceremony

Dan: Let’s start this week’s episode off with your science in the news. And we’re going back to the good old James Webb Space Telescope to kick things off today. You’ll remember this. It’s the huge telescope that NASA launched into space on Christmas Day. Then it unfurled a huge mirror that was something like the size of a football pitch. And it’s going to shine light from the edge of the universe back to the telescope so they can get pictures and look at the oldest stars in the sky.

Now, they’ve taken some time getting all the fixtures and fittings into place. And some of the degrees of accuracy they needed were less than the size and the width of one of your hairs. But they’ve managed to do it. It’s fully focused and it’s taken a razor sharp image of a star many lightyears away. So now it can get to work.

Embed from Getty Images

Also, a bit of meteorite as big as a bean has sold for loads of money. It fell on the small English town of Winchcombe last year, you might remember, and it sold for more than 120 times its weight in gold. One piece of this meteorite from space went for almost £10,000. A second bit went for £20,000.

silhouette of trees under starry night

And finally, with your news this week, the team that found Sir Ernest Shackleton’s lost ship Endurance on the Antarctic seafloor last week will get home this Sunday. They held a short ceremony of remembrance for Shackleton at Grip Vicin on an island on the British Overseas Territory, which is near South Pole. And they’re now heading home after finding a ship that was thought to be lost forever.

Professor Hallux’s Map of Medicine: The Opticians

Dan: Right, time to check in now with Professor Hallux. He is a genius. And every week he’s here with Nurse Nanobot, looking inside your body at what makes you ill and also finding out who makes you better, and how that they do that. We’ve looked at teeth before, we’ve looked in your gut, in your muscles. And this week, Hallux wants to get his eyes inside your eyes.

Nurse: Oh no! The body’s blundering about again.

Professor Hallux: I just don’t understand it, Nurse. He’s got the brain of the best boffin in Britain. The coordination of a crack Olympic gymnast. He’s definitely not got two left feet. I double checked that one. Definitely one of each. So why does he keep walking into things?

Nurse: Maybe he needs some glasses, Professor? Perhaps we should take him to the opticians?

Professor Hallux: You’ve hit the spot, Nanobot. Of course. Why didn’t I think of that? He’s probably shortsighted.

Nurse: Great. But before that, But before that, can we get him to sit down before he trashes the entire lab that covers got my entire collection of spores and fungi in it.

Had my collection of spores and fungi in it. Now they’re, well, mostly on the floor.

Professor Hallux: Ah, look, I’ll clear that up while you give us the clinical crunch on being short sighted. Over 5 million people in the UK are so Body is in good company if he is.

Nurse: If he is, I don’t know. Took me years to grow all that fungi. Oh, well, no point crying over spilled Microsporidia. Wearing glasses is very common, and the most common reason is to help. Short sightedness or myopia.

white eye testing machine

Professor Hallux: Myopia. I think I used to know her – haha!

Nurse: It’s not a girl’s name! It’s a condition affecting the eyes and means you can see things close up, but they get blurry when they’re farther away.

Professor Hallux: Bit like me. I’m far away!

Nurse: It happens when an eye is too long from front to back, or where the cornea, the front of the eye, is too steeply curved. It doesn’t hurt and is very common. It’s just the way some eyes are.

Professor Hallux: Phew! And glasses help almost everyone with myopia to see much more clearly. But to get them, you need to visit your opticians, although it’s more accurate to call them optometrists. If I boot up my map of medicine, we can get the low down it’s a mine of info on medical people and places.

Optometrists, or opticians, check your eyes and give you a prescription for glasses if you need them. But how does it all happen? Well, first off, you’ll sit in a lovely, comfy chair. Bit like the one at the dentist. It might go up and down.

Nurse: Professor, leave the chair alone. You’ll break it.

Professor Hallux: That was fun. When you’re at the right height, the optometrist will look into your eye with a handheld device called opthalamoscope, a bigger tabletop version called a slit lamp. Both involve shining a bright light into your eye for a few seconds and then they’ll puff air on it with a Tonometer. Feels a bit blinky, but it’s just to test the health of your eyeball and shouldn’t hurt at all. For some of the tests, the optometrist might switch the lights off or down. Hey, who turned off the lights? Turn that back on. I said the optometrist might turn the lights off, so the dark just helps him see what’s going on. And when it’s time for you to have a look at some eye charts for your eye test, it can help you focus on the images. These will usually be on the opposite wall and could be letters or shapes. Sometimes there are colours and numbers.

Right, let’s clear this up. It’s called an eye test, but it isn’t a test you can pass or fail, so there won’t be a countdown. Sorry. If you have trouble telling what the letters or shapes are, the optician might get you to look through a phoropter, a special gizmo that helps him try out lots of different lenses. Sometimes it’s like a funny pair of specs, other times it’s a machine you look through. The optometrist will switch between two different lenses and say, like this, or like this. You just say, which one is better. There isn’t a right or wrong answer, so it’s just what’s best for you.

Nurse: You should have a test every couple of years, but if you find yourself having trouble seeing the board at school and things look rather blurry, it might be worth going back. It could all be so much clearer with some snazzy specs.

Professor Hallux: Let’s have a quick, disgusting detail Nurse, there’s just time before we go.

Nurse: Luckily it’s rare, but if an eye is badly injured or affected by serious disease, sometimes it has to be taken out. Now that’s not the gruesome bit. There’s more to come. You see, people who are missing an eye sometimes get a very strange condition called phantom eye syndrome. It’s when the person feels like there is still an eyeball in the empty socket, it can even feel painful and weird hallucinations can make it all the more real. It’s nothing to do with real phantoms though. It’s just the brain trying to make sense of the loss of this organ.

Professor Hallux: Eye popping stuff. Nurse. Now it’s time for us to get the body to the opticians. But before you join us again, why not explore Map of Medicine for yourself?

Answering Your Questions: Why Do We Get Headaches? & How Do The Lenses in Glasses Work?

Dan: Let’s do your questions then. If you’ve got something sciencey that you want figured out, that you need answering because you just can’t sleep at night, maybe it’s something your teacher told you and you’re thinking, no way that’s true. Let me tell ya. Maybe it’s something you heard in the playground and you’re thinking, that can’t possibly be true. Well, let me look it up for you. I love learning things in books and on the internet and I will do the digging for you.

First question this week comes from Lucy in Scotland who wants to know, why do we get headaches? Well, there are so many types of headaches, Lucy. Now before we look through them, here’s something interesting that I found for you. The brain doesn’t actually feel pain, so headaches aren’t coming from your brain. They’re coming from what’s around it. They’re coming from the muscles and the bones and the blood vessels inside your head or perhaps in your nose or your ears or your mouth.

Now the most common headache you might get is called a tension headache. And that’s that dull thud that you get. It just aches. It seems endless, like it goes on and on. And these are caused by the muscles around your head getting too tense. They tighten up. And when they do it for a while, it tells your brain that something is wrong and it will hurt. Now, this might be because you’re stressed. Maybe at school, maybe you’ve fallen out with a mate. Maybe you’re feeling a bit emotional. Maybe you can’t see properly so your eyes are straining to focus. That will hurt. Or maybe you need more water to help those muscles out. It’s when those muscles get tense, then you start to feel it in your head.

Another type of really common headache is a vascular headache. And that’s when it’s in a really specific place. You know that feeling when you’ve got like a pin jabbed into a very specific tiny part of your brain? Now it’s normally because there’s not enough blood getting to one part of your head. Maybe your blood vessels are too tight, maybe they’re swollen, and that’s what makes those pinprick headaches. Lucy, thank you for the question.

man in blue crew neck shirt covering his face

Also this week, this is from Isabel, who wants to know how the lenses in glasses work. Now you’ll wear glasses if your eyes aren’t good at seeing certain things, maybe you can’t see things that are up close or far away. I have to wear glasses when I’m tired. Normally when you’re watching tele with your family at the end of a long day, everything’s a bit blurry for me. So I have to wear glasses because my eyes are short sighted, which means I’m bad at looking at things in the distance.

Now the lenses in glasses are shaped in two different ways. They are concave or convex, and they bend light in two different ways to help you focus on your retina. Now your retina is the part of the eye at the back, which makes sense of what you’re seeing. And these lenses are shaped in a way that either moves, like closer together or further apart a little bit so you can understand what’s happening.

Now, concave lenses look like a cave with a bowl that goes inwards and they move the pictures closer to your retina, which helps see things further away. Convex lenses are bending outwards a little bit, and this moves the picture just a little bit further away than normal so you can see things that are closer so it helps both of those. Isabel, thank you for the question. If there’s something you want answered on the site’s weekly next week, you need to leave it as a review for me over on Apple podcasts.

person holding eyeglasses

Interview with Ben Garrod

Dan: It’s the Fun Kids Science Weekly. Now this week we’re learning all about creatures through time, how they’ve changed and how they’ve evolved into the beasts that we see today. We’ll do that with the help of Ben Garrod, who is a professor of evolutionary biology. And he’s got some brand new books out about the most amazing extinct creatures. Ben, thank you for joining us. How do we know that these creatures have existed? What are we looking for that shows us about all the different animals that have been throughout history.

Ben: Hi, Dan. Well, thanks for having me on, first of all! And I always say that being a scientist is a little bit like being a detective. And you’ve got a mystery that you’ve got to try and solve. It’s not a crime in the same way that detectives do, but nevertheless, we’ve still got to look at evidence. We’ve got to look at clues, and that’s what we’re doing here.

So how do you know that something like a mammoth lived 200,000 years ago? Well, that’s much easier. We can look at their bones when we find them. We can even find fully preserved mammoths, sometimes up in the Arctic in the ice and the permafrost when it melts. And we can look at their DNA, the genetic material that’s like their own individual recipe with something that’s recently extinct, that’s much easier. And we can see their relatives. We can see the elephants and hyraxes and other animals alive today that are closely related to mammoths. However, when you go further back in time, there are fewer clues. There were fewer pieces of evidence that allow us as scientists or as you want to imagine, like detectives that enable us to understand that picture.

So when you’re going back to the dinosaurs time, maybe T-rex, 66 million years ago, there are fewer fossils. There aren’t the opportunities to find them preserved in the ice or even Amber, according to Jurassic Park. And we don’t have DNA. And the further back in time we go. So if we’re looking at worm like organisms like Hallucigenia that lived well, over 316,000,000 years ago, remembering that T-rex was just 66 million years ago, then there are even fewer fossils. There’s definitely no DNA in the fossils we find are much more fragmented, usually. So it’s like putting a jigsaw puzzle back together.

And sometimes you have lots of pieces and all the pieces, hopefully. And sometimes you might just have three or four pieces when you’re expecting several hundred pieces. It’s frustrating, but that’s part of the fun of being a scientist.

Dan: Now you’ve got a huge range of books out that go into amazing detail in very specific extinct creatures just looking at one here, which is about the Megalodon. This was something that was a bit like a shark that was under the ocean. What amazes me, Ben, you don’t just know that it existed, but it’s filled with fantastic drawings and illustrations. How do we know exactly what a beast like the Megalodon from all those years ago, what it looked like?

Ben: Now, If you are ever lucky enough to see a live shark, they are the most amazing animals out there. They really are beautiful, incredible predators. We get them around the UK, we get them all across Europe and there’s about 300 or so species alive at the moment. But there have been thousands of species for the last 400 or so million years. They really are one of nature’s most successful groups. If you ever see a live one, what you should never do is try and catch it and then tie it into a knot, because that would be really silly.

selective focus photography of shark

However, the reason I’m saying that is because the skeleton of a shark, even including Megalodon, which is the largest shark ever, that died out about 3.6 million years ago, maybe a little bit more recently, largest shark ever 20 metres in length of 20 big adult paces, weighing as much, potentially as 40 to 50 tonnes.

It’s skeleton was made of this rubbery, flexible material called cartilage, the same stuff you get in your ears and your nose. So it’s hard to rebuild the skeletons of Sharks they don’t preserve in the same way that our bones do, or even a T-rex, for example, or even something like a Smilodon or a Dimetrodon, which have more bone based skeletons. However, we can still recreate what those animals look like from the shapes of their jaws.

You know that the bottom feeders don’t have these big serrated, triangular teeth. So already the very fact that we have these big triangular teeth with serrations alone without the rest of the skeleton tells us something about the behaviour of the shark. Well, we know it wasn’t flat like a wobbegong, which is, I think, the best name for shark ever. So we know they weren’t flat like wobegongs. We know they weren’t small fish eating Sharks like we weren’t these fast swimming Makos or blue Sharks, which all have very different teeth. The only things that we have similar to this are the big salmon Sharks, so the great whites and their relatives. So already we know that it’s great white like, is it a great white? Is it just a big great white? Well, there are differences in the teeth. There are some skeletal remains that have been really well preserved and we piece them back together. Then by piecing the behaviour of this animal, we know it was cruising the open oceans. We know it would have been around reefs and shorelines. There are only so many body shapes that a successful shark can have in that position.

And we have found some of their remains from interactions with other animals as well. We have found bite marks in whale ribs from whales that were living at the same time as megalodon. And they’re nearly always in the bottom of the ribs. So it seems to be these big Sharks were coming up through the depths, aiming towards the surface and wham, taking these poor whales out in one big bite, which would have had devastating consequences. And because of that, we can start piecing together their behaviour, what they looked like, where they lived, what they ate. And even we can work with engineers and recreate things like the bite force. So we have a pretty good idea of just how powerful the bites were of an animal, but we don’t really even know much about the skeleton. So, again, going back to that point, being a scientist is just like being a detective.

Dan: It really is. The more and more I hear about it now, another book in this series, it’s all about a creature that I have never heard of before and I think I know about a few creatures. This is the thylacine, is that right?

Ben: Absolutely. Now lots of, well every, animal has multiple names. So go back to our Sharks, the great white – we call them great whites. They’re also called white pointers. They’re called the white death by some people, they have lots of common names. They only have one scientific name. And we get this with this animal, this next animal as well, the thylacine. So sometimes people call it the Tasmanian Tiger. Some people call it the Marsupial Wolf. It’s neither of those things. It wasn’t a Tiger. It wasn’t even remotely related to a Tiger any more than you are. In fact, you’re more related to a Tiger than a thylacine was. It wasn’t a Wolf, so it’s a thylacine. This is based on its scientific name. It’s part of the Marsupial group. Or was sadly part of the Marsupial group, things like wombats, koalas, kangaroos. And yet we’ve got this predatory animal that looks like a slightly smaller version of a Wolf with a massive gaping yawn that can almost open to 120 degrees, so much larger than our mouth.

And sadly, these animals didn’t go extinct thousands or even millions of years ago. These animals were killed in the 20th century. So the 1930s, there was a bounty. So a reward put on the head or tail of every one you shot or killed, because people thought these were a menace to society. They thought they were being responsible for killing sheep and even threatening people. And actually, we realised they weren’t doing that. They were killing much smaller animals, wild animals, as they should be eating as part of a natural food chain within their environment. And yet, sadly, it’s our lack of understanding that meant we push them into extinction.

So it really shows the reader and it shows me, especially, I think, that extinct animals don’t all belong to hundreds of millions of years ago, or they’re not all dinosaurs. Some of the most iconic animals that have gone extinct, like the dodo, like the thylacine. And there’s a whole range of different animals I could mention there passenger pigeon, even, have all gone extinct. Maybe not in our lifetime, but our parents or grandparents lifetimes as well. And that’s something that’s carrying on now.

So the reason I include the thylacine, it’s a beautiful animal. It was what we call charismatic. So it has really lots of charm and lots of appeal to it. And it was killed not because of an asteroid or because of a lava field. It was killed, sadly, it was made extinct because we didn’t understand enough about this animal at the time.

Dan: It’s amazing just how much we’re still learning because when you think of the stage and the scale of some dinosaurs being bought 100 million years apart and we’ve only been there a couple of hundred thousand years. Now in this series, The Story of Life on Earth series, there are so many incredible animals and that was just a little taster of some of the beasts that you can learn more about. They’re all by Ben Garrod. Ben, thank you so much for joining us!

Dangerous Dan: Eastern Hognose Snake

Dan: Now, do you remember last week’s Dangerous Dan, where we spoke about the beaded lace wing, the creepy crawly with a toxic fart? While learning all about that has led me to this creature, it’s not really deadly, but it’s just as amazing. And our Dangerous Dan this week is all about the Eastern Hognose.

It’s a snake that you can find in America, around Florida, Kansas and up to Canada. And it’s an incredible looking beast with a diamond patterned coloured back and a really white head. Now their mouth can open to an incredible size as well. They’ve got these big teeth at the back and they do snap shut and they bite with venom. But it’s not really dangerous to humans.

The thing is, the Eastern Hognose, although it’s going on to our Dangerous Dan list, it’s a bit of a scaredy cat. And when it gets scared, it does something strange and incredible. It lies back, it plays dead in front of the predator and then it farts. And it farts a stench that’s so stinky that any creature nearby pretty much runs away. They hightail it, now it just can’t be near that awful odour.

It makes sense because when an animal has died, it’s body rots away. And this reeks.

So the Eastern Hognose snake makes a smell just like that to confuse the animal, to leg it. A ferocious fart. The Eastern Hognose isn’t really deadly to us humans at all, but anything with the power of a toxic trump, a ferocious fart, a poisonous parp. Anything that stinky has to go on our Dangerous Dan list.

Age of the Dinosaurs: Cretaceous Period – Plant Life

Dan: Finishing things off this week by travelling back through time to the age of the dinosaurs. It’s our series that looks at the incredible creatures in the Cretaceous Period. It was millions of years ago where the world was experiencing some of the hottest climates ever known. And there were more species around than ever. And they weren’t all just animals.

Narrator: Imagine going back in time, not 100 years or 10 years, but millions of years to the age of the dinosaur. Welcome to the Cretaceous Period, which existed between 65 and 144,000,000 years ago. More dinosaurs lived during this time than any other. The world was experiencing some of the hottest climates ever known and was home to a wider range of environments and species than had ever been seen before.

Child: Wow. Check out the cool flowers.

Narrator: Flowering plants known as angiosperms began to bloom in the Cretaceous Period, spreading from the warmer tropics, where the conditions were perfect for them to flourish. One common type of angiosperm were the palms, which populated the forests in huge numbers, although another type you might recognise were water lilies, like those found in ponds today. And with flowers came many varieties of insects, from butterflies and beetles to flies and ants, and also early relatives of bees to pollinate the flowers.

Child: Ouch. This plant is very spiky.

Narrator: That’s a cycad. And it’s telling you to keep off with more animals around. Plants had to get clever too. Some grew spikes. Others developed poisons or unpleasant tastes to put herbivores off eating them.

Child: Watch out, something massive is on the move.

Narrator: He’s massive alright! It’s an Argentinosaurus. The herbivores in the Cretaceous Period were some of the largest sauropods ever. Sauropods had huge bodies, long tails and necks and small heads. And the Argentinosaurus is thought to be the largest that ever lived. Only a few fossils have been found, but they show he was 30 metres long and weighed over 60 tonnes. With his enormous neck, he could reach the tallest treetops to strip huge amounts of vegetation, he needed. Herbivores like the Argentinosaurus roamed around forests like these amongst the conifers and palms.

Child: Oh, it’s really hot here.

Narrator: Even hotter parts of the world, like the area that’s now East Asia, were more like deserts. Very hardy plants grew there and dinosaurs had to be tough to survive, either managing to eat the dry and spiky vegetation or by preying on other animals. As a result, deserts were some of the most terrifying places of

Child: Look out…it’s a ferocious Tarbosaurus!

Narrator: Insects can help us learn about plant life, but insects rarely become fossilised. However, soft and sticky resin that oozes from tree bark can trap insects, preserving them incredibly well when fossilised into Amber. Amber found in Ethiopia in 2010 helped scientists put together a snapshot of the Cretaceous woodland and the different animals and plants that lived there at that time. Spiders, Wasps and one of the oldest ants in the world were all trapped in perfect detail.

Dan: And that is it for this week’s Fun Kids Science Weekly. Thank you for listening. If there’s something you’d like answered on the show next week. Best way is to get yourself to Apple podcasts if that’s how you listen and leave us a review on there, give us five stars so I can see the review, leave your name as well so I know who to say hello to. There’s a comment box at the bottom that is where you leave your questions.

While you’re on there there’s loads of brilliant podcasts we make. You can listen to them on Apple, on Google, Spotify over on the free Fun Kids App, at funkidslive.com and Fun Kids – we are a children’s radio station from the UK. You can 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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