Let's Dive In is back for Season 3! You know the drill at this stage. Kids asks two super scientists whatever fun question pops into their head and the gang answer it with the help of special guests.
In the first show your hosts, Julie and Phil, talk with Simon Watt to find out what noise-making kits different animals have.
Here Julie tells us all about what's in store and has a little experiment for you to try at home...
Hello everyone! We are so excited to be back with season 3 of Let's Dive In! Phil and I have missed you all terribly, so we’re going to dive straight in with another noisy episode.
Ruby, age 10, came to visit Phil at the UCD Explore Lab at University College Dublin and wanted to know: Why do animals make different noises and don’t talk like humans?
Throughout the centuries people have tried to communicate with animals, whether it’s talking to parrots (like Lottie does to her bird Bangles in the episode) or trying to get chimps to tell us what they’d like to eat. People have trained some of the great apes to communicate with humans using sign language, but why can’t they make the same noises, or talk, like we do?
Well, it’s mostly down to the noise making kit that animals have, says Dr Simon Watt. Simon is a biologist, science communicator and comedian (you may remember him from Rocketeers, or know him from the Ugly Animal Preservation Society). I asked Simon to help us answer this question because I very vividly remember watching him in a show called Inside Nature’s Giants, where in one episode they dissected a lion and made a new discovery about how the lion can make such a deep, loud and penetrating roar.
So, what did he tell us? We started off by exploring what noise making kit we’ve got: humans have vocal cords, which are "fleshy bits controlled by muscles about how taught they can be". And as air flows over them these fleshy bits vibrate and make noises. "A lot of our sound is coming from places like our nose, and our bones as well. They all come together to give us the range that we can have. And then humans we also use our tongue," says Simon. And all of these things come together to allow us to make the wonderful sounds we do (check out our VERY FIRST episode on RTE about Why we talk)!
But, says Simon, "most things don’t need that kind of variety so they don’t need anything near as sophisticated as that." Some mammals still have vocal cords and a larynx which they use to make roaring sounds. Think lions, deer, and koala bears!
Underwater mammals also have similar vocal tool kits, says Simon, "but they’re having to use it in a very different way." Basically, they need to make sounds whilst holding their breath and keeping their mouth closed.
Go, on, you try. Can you make any sounds that sound like talking whilst keeping your mouth shut and holding your nose? Not as easy as you might think!
Baleen whales, the ones with the curtains for teeth, have a lightly different kit compared to other mammals. According to a research article published in 2007 in the journal The Anatomical Record, Advances in Integrative Anatomy and Evolutionary Biology, scientists found that instead of having two fleshy, flappy vocal cords that air flows between, like humans do, these baleen whales have one fleshy flappy bit called a U-fold. And the air gets pushed over the top of the u-fold.
You can try this at home.
What you need:
- 1 piece of paper
- A pair of scissors (and a grown up to help if needed)
What you need to do:
- Cut two small, equal sized triangles
- Cut one small rectangle
And here's how you do it!
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To be the human, take your two little triangle pieces of paper and hold one in each hand, with thumb and forefinger pinching one corner. Take both pieces and hold them up to your mouth so they have two sides almost touching. Now gently blow through them.
To be the whale, take your rectangular piece of paper, holding it with both hands. One hand on each long side of the rectangle, so that one short side of the rectangle is close to your mouth. Now, gently blow OVER the top of the piece of paper.
What do you notice?
Do the pieces of paper move? If so, have a think about why.
Some other mammals communicate in other ways - dogs use their incredible sense of smell. "Everything that we might put on some kind of social media platform… or something where we’ve got a status…. A dog does that with its smelliness"
And insects, they rub one part of their body on another one. The water boatman, Simon says, "makes its noise by rubbing its legs against its willy… That’s the loudest noise, for its size, that you can find in the animal kingdom."
So, animals make noises in a variety of ways (and so do kids, it seems!), and they don’t need a sophisticated toolkit like we do, because they just don’t communicate as many different things. They need to know: whose family do you belong to, how fertile are you, and maybe where you have been.
Thanks for listening to our first episode of season 3! Please do subscribe to make sure you don’t miss any of our upcoming episodes, hit that "like" button and, if you can, leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts - we’d love to hear from you!
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AND read all the Let's Dive In articles with experiments to try at home HERE!