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144: What’s A Screaming Hairy Armadillo? How Animals Get Their Names

Why are whale sharks called whale sharks? Why are guinea pigs called pigs if they’re not pigs? Why are eagles called bald eagles if they’re not bald? You also ask us lots of questions about why and how animals got their names. So today we’re going to introduce you to the concept of taxonomy, or how animals are categorized, and we’ll also talk about the difference between scientific and common names. We’ll learn about the reasoning behind the names of daddy long legs, killer whales, fox snakes, German shepherds and more! Our guests are Steve and Matt Murrie, authors of The Screaming Hairy Armadillo, and 76 Other Animals With Weird Wild Names.

There are some animals whose names don’t really seem accurate-like daddy long legs…which certainly aren’t all daddies! Or bald eagles that very clearly have plenty of feathers on their heads. Or guinea pigs, which aren’t actually pigs!

And then there are animals with awesomely silly names. Have you ever heard of the umbrella bird? How about the sparklemuffin peacock spider!  Or the monkeyface prickleback, the sarcastic fringehead, and the white-bellied go-away bird!

How do animals get their names? Well, there are two types of animal names: Scientific names and common names.

Scientific names are used as a way to categorize all living things, so even if you don’t know a lot about an animal, you can learn a lot about them by knowing their scientific name. There are eight different levels that living things get grouped into: domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species.

The broadest category is called the domain. There are three domains: archaea, bacteria, and eucarya. Bacteria and archaea are both categories of micro-organisms. All animals and plants belong in the eucarya domain.

Below domain is kingdom. There’s a kingdom for animals called Animalia and a kingdom for plants called plantae. (And a few others as well.) As you go through the classification system it gets more and more specific. So, take humans: we belong to the eucarya domain, the animalia kingdom, the chordata phylum (because we have a backbone), the mammalia class (because we’re mammals), the primate order, homonidae family, homo is our genus and homo sapien is our species name.

All species have two official scientific names, kind of like how you have a first name and a family name. So the species name for humans is homo sapien. The species name for a common black rat is rattus rattus. An Asian elephant is elephas maximus.

Those names sound fancy, and originally the scientific names of animals were in Latin or Greek, but they don’t have to be Latin or Greek anymore, they just have to sound like they are!

But we don’t typically call all animals by their scientific names. We often refer to them by their common names, which are kind of like nicknames! Common names can be different in different languages. Like, the scientific name for a wolf is canus lupus. That would stay the same no matter what language you’re using. But in English we tend to call it a wolf; in Spanish you’d call it un lobo, and in Welsh it would be blaidd (pronounced “blythe”).

Even within the same language, an animal can have lots of common names. Here in Vermont, where I live, we have an animal called a groundhog. But most people around here call it a woodchuck. And others call it a land beaver, or a whistle pig! Common names were often in use long before animals go their specific scientific names.

143: Hopes And Dreams For 2021 From Kids Around The World

As the new year dawns, what are you hopeful for in 2021?

Even though the change of the calendar year is mostly symbolic, New Year’s Day is often a time for looking back on the year that just passed and setting goals for the year ahead. We asked you to share your hopes and dreams for 2021, from the end of the COVID-19 pandemic to your own personal goals. In this episode, more than 100 kids from around the world offer New Year’s resolutions.

We’ll also hear from Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo, climate activist Bill McKibben and Young Peoples Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye.

Here are just a few of the hopes and dreams you sent us:

“My environmental wish for 2021 is that we can stop so much pollution. My personal wish is to learn Urdu and to convince my brother to get a cat or dog!” – Maya, Toronto, Ontario

“My wish for 2021 is that the coronavirus will stop and the vaccine will come out and we can do things we haven’t done this year and we can have our birthday together this year!” -Zain

“I want to learn how to ride my bike by myself. – Adelaide, 6, California

“What I want to happen for the new year is that I want people to start being responsible and no coronavirus. I want people to stop polluting. I want people to wear more masks. I want people to be kind to animals.” – Jedi, 8, Ohio

“I hope in 2021 more people think about and believe in climate change.” -Evelyn, Albany, New York

“Next year I would like more electric cars!” – Kyrav, 6, Geneva, Switzerland

“My hope for next year is that we don’t use as much plastic as we do now and that coronavirus will stop so we’re able to do the things we like to do.” – Tejas, Canberra, Australia

“My hope for 2021 is that everyone gets health care.” – Mikal, 7, Georgia

My new year’s resolution is for sloths to take over the world and for people to use less plastic. – Sloan, 7, Wisconsin

142: Why Do Things Seem Scary In The Dark?

Lots of people are afraid of the dark, including many kids who have shared that fear with us. In today’s episode we explore the fear of the dark with Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket, the author of the Series of Unfortunate Events books, and a picture book for young kids called The Dark.

Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript | Coloring Page

Then we go on a night hike with Vermont Fish and Wildlife biologist Steve Parren, to talk about ways to embrace the darkness. We practice our night vision by not using flashlights and we think about how our other senses can help us navigate. Steve also answers questions about how animals see in the dark and why it sometimes look like animals’ eyes are glowing back at us in the darkness.

This episode features coloring pages by Xiaochun Li. Download and print My Flashlight And Me, and Hiding Under The Covers. You can color as you listen!

141: Why Aren’t Babies Just Little Adults?

Why are babies small and grownups big? Why are babies so helpless, instead of little versions of adults? Do babies know they’re babies? How do babies grow? How do babies learn to talk?

Kids have been sending us lots of questions about babies! This week we’re learning more about the development of the human brain  with Celeste Kidd, professor of psychology and primary investigator at the  Kidd Lab at the University of California Berkeley.

It seems like a really bad idea, right? Human babies rely on adult humans for everything, while babies of some species never meet their parents and are able to take care of themselves as soon as their born! Why is that?

While researchers aren’t sure on this one, Celeste Kidd says there are a lot of theories.

“Because we are very intelligent, we need bigger brains to account for all the things we can do that other animals can’t do. If you have a big brain and you’re born via live birth – meaning you aren’t born from an egg – then there’s an upper limit on how big your head can be when you go through the birth canal,” she explains.

In other words, we need those big brains to do all the things humans do, but a human head with a fully developed brain can’t fit through the birth canal.

“The bigger your head needs to be ultimately, the more immature you need to be born,” Celeste says. So we have to develop and grow outside of the womb. We’re born with some of our brain power, but our brains keep growing long after we’re born, well into our 20s. And there are some advantages to that long period of childhood.

“If you require dependence on your parents for a really long time, which humans do, that creates a lot of opportunity for you to learn a lot of stuff about your culture and the other people that you’re being raised with. We have a lot of knowledge that is unique to us as a species, and that’s unique to us as social groups,” Celeste says.

The long childhood allows for a lot of cultural transmission – learning about tools, language, manners and arts. Some of these exist in other species, but the human systems are a lot more elaborate and take more time to learn!

140: Why Are We Still Talking About The Election?

A few weeks ago we talked about why kids can’t vote and we also answered some questions about the U.S. Presidential Election. It’s been two weeks since the November 3rd election, but we’re still getting questions about it! We get answers from NPR political reporter Ayesha Rascoe.

Here are some of the questions we’re tackling in this episode: What would happen if someone counted the votes wrong? Why is President Donald Trump going to court and why are people saying Joe Biden might not be president? What is the Electoral College and why do we still have it; why haven’t we changed to a popular vote? How does the president talk to the people without being on the news?

Helping us answer these questions is political reporter Ayesha Rascoe, who covers the White House for NPR. Adults, you might want to check out the NPR Politics Podcast, a daily podcast that frequently features Rascoe’s reporting and expertise.

139: Why Do Whales Sing?

In our most recent episode, we answered questions about  really big animals: whales!

We covered a lot when it comes to these huge aquatic mammals but there was one big topic we didn’t get to: and that’s how whales communicate.  We’ll learn more about the sounds whales make: singing, whistles, and echolocation clicks with Amy Van Cise, a biologist at NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington.

138: Why Are Whales So Big?

How do whales spray water? Why are humpback whales so fat and blue whales so long, and why are blue whales blue? Do whales have belly buttons? How do you weigh a whale? And how do whales drink water in the salty ocean? We have a whale of a time answering questions about these ocean-dwelling mammals with paleontologist Nick Pyenson, author of Spying on Whales: The Past, Present and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures.

137: Why Can’t Kids Vote?

In the United States, where But Why is based, we have a big election coming up. Election Day is officially on November 3rd. But more Americans than usual are voting in advance this year, sometimes in person at their town hall or city office. And sometimes by mailing in their ballot-that’s the piece of paper where they mark down who they want to vote for. People in lots of states are voting for their governors, who help run their states, or their Congresspeople, who work in Washington to help run the country.

But the position that’s getting the most attention is the election for who will be president for the next four years. We learn about voting and elections with Erin Geiger Smith, reporter and author of Thank You For Voting and Thank You For Voting Young Readers’ Edition.  Also: how does the government work? Why haven’t we had girl presidents before? Why are Democrats called Democrats? Why are Republicans called Republicans?

Who Invented The President?

Who Makes The Laws?

136: Why Are Some Animals Pets And Others Are Lunch?

This episode may not be suitable for our youngest listeners or for particularly sensitive kids.

We’re discussing animal ethics with author Hal Herzog. In a follow up to our pets episodes, we look at how we treat animals very differently depending on whether we think of them as pets, food, or work animals. Why do some cultures eat cows and others don’t? Why do some cultures not have pets at all? And is it okay to breed animals like dogs that have significant health problems even though we love them? Herzog is the author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals.

Transcript

135: Why Do Dogs Have Tails?

Why do dogs have whiskers? Why are dogs’ eyesight black and white? Why do dogs have so many babies? Why do dogs have tails and we don’t? Why are dogs thumbs so high on their paw? Why don’t dogs sweat? Why do dogs roll in the grass? Why aren’t dogs and cats friends? Veterinarian and dog scientist Jessica Hekman has answers.

Dog Coloring Page

Dog Breed Quiz Coloring Page

Dog Breed Quiz Answers

Transcript