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Ask Dr. Universe Podcast | How Do You Science

Meet a Marine Biologist

Dr. Universe, a grey cat with a lab coat, looking through binoculars

Welcome back, young scientists. I’m Dr. Universe.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve got lots of big questions about our world.

Today we’re talking about birds with Wes Dowd, a marine biologist and environmental physiologist at Washington State University.

Resources You Can Use

  • Spend some time on the American Museum of Natural History’s marine biology page
  • Learn more about ocean plankton with Black in Marine Science

As always, submit burning questions at Who knows where your questions will take us next.

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  • What is the most dangerous insect in the world?

    Dear Juan Simon,

    The deadliest animal on Earth isn’t a shark or a bear. It’s an insect. Mosquitoes kill way more people than any other animal.

    I talked about it with Jeb Owen. He’s an insect scientist at Washington State University.

    He told me mosquitoes are dangerous because of the way they sometimes eat.

    “Through blood feeding, mosquitoes can transmit pathogens that make people and animals sick,” Owen said.

    Read Story
  • Why do we have nose hairs?

    Dear James and Zion,

    Despite being a curious science cat, I must confess I haven’t spent much time looking up human noses. But I have noticed that human nostrils can be a bit…furry.

    I talked about what’s inside your nose with my friend Edward Johnson. He teaches classes about the human body in the School of Biological Sciences at Washington State University.

    He told me that nose hairs only grow in your nose’s vestibule. That’s the inside of the part of your nostrils that you can flare out. The nose hair’s job is to filter the air you breathe in through your nose.

    Read Story
  • Why do we need the sun?

    Dear Samai ,

    Right now, the sun is shining through my window. It feels warm on my muzzle.

    I talked about the sun with Guy Worthey. He’s a professor of astronomy and physics at Washington State University.

    He told me that our lives depend on the sun.

    “The sun keeps you warm and powers everything,” Worthey said. “Without it, Earth would be a frozen nightmare.”

    Read Story
  • Why do we change our minds?

    Dear Stella,

    As a science cat, I’ve changed my mind a lot over the years. I used to wear a fancy neck scarf called a cravat all the time. Now I’m comfy in my lab coat.

    I talked about that with my friend Makita White. She’s a graduate student in the psychology department at Washington State University.

    She told me that we change our minds when we get new information or insight that tells us we need to make a different choice.

    It turns out that we have lots of opinions and beliefs. They’re also called attitudes. We have attitudes about what we … » More …

    Read Story
  • Why are some veggies called fruits because of their seeds?

    Dear Valerie,

    Every summer I grow peppers in my garden. I always thought they were vegetables. But you’re right that my peppers have gobs of seeds like fruits do.

    To figure out what’s going on, I talked with my friend Jacob Blauer. He’s a plant scientist at Washington State University.

    He told me that whether something is a vegetable or fruit depends on what part of the plant it comes from.

    “Plant products that come from plant parts like roots, leaves or stems are veggies,” Blauer said. “If they come from a flower and bear seeds, they’re a fruit in botanical and scientific terms.”

    Read Story
  • Do babies open their eyes when they are in their mom’s tummy?

    Dear Neela,

    My litter mates and I were born with our eyes closed. It takes a week or more for newborn kittens to open their eyes and see the world. But newborn humans can open their eyes and look around right away.

    I talked about your question with my friend Cindy Brigham-Althoff. She’s a nurse midwife and professor at Washington State University.

    She told me that whether unborn babies can open their eyes depends on their fetal age, or how close they are to being born.

    Most babies are ready to be born after about 38 weeks of growing and developing. (Or 40 … » More …

    Read Story
  • Why are cats scared of cucumbers/snakes?

    Dear Aurelia,

    It’s been almost ten years since someone went viral for recording a cat freaking out about a cucumber. In that video, a human sneaked up behind a cat while it was eating. They silently placed a cucumber behind the cat. When the cat turned around, it jumped super high and ran away. Soon, lots of people were making those videos.

    I asked my friend Jessica Bunch why all those cats were scared. She’s a veterinarian at Washington State University.

    She told me that cats can be surprised by new things. That’s especially true if the new thing shows up without warning. Or … » More …

    Read Story
  • How are plants considered living if they don’t have a heart or brain?

    Dear Lily,

    You and I are both animals with backbones, so we have lots in common. Our ways of being alive look similar. We have hearts to pump blood. We have brains that help us think and communicate.

    But plants don’t have the same body systems we do.

    I talked about your question with my friend Michael Knoblauch. He’s a plant scientist at Washington State University.

    He told me plants are seriously good at being alive. In fact, 80% of all the living things on Earth are plants.

    “Go out in the forest and look around,” Knoblauch said. “You might see birds and … » More …

    Read Story
  • What would happen to female honey bees if male bees didn’t exist?

    Dear Emmie,

    When I want something sweet, I pull out a jar of honey made by my bee friends at Washington State University. I talked about your question with one of the insect scientists there, Rae Olsson.

    They told me a honey bee colony includes one female queen, many female workers and, depending on the time of year, some male drones.

    Workers have lots of jobs. They gather nectar and pollen. They take care of each other, the queen and the baby bees.

    A drone’s only job is to mate with a queen from another colony.

    The queen’s only job is to … » More …

    Read Story
  • Why do plants need water?

    Dear Emma,

    When I’m thirsty, I pick up a glass of water with my paws and drink it—just like you do. But plants don’t have paws or mouths, so how (and why) do they drink it?

    To find the answer, I talked with my friend Helmut Kirchhoff. He’s a scientist at Washington State University. He studies plants and biochemistry.

    He told me plants need water inside their cells. Water makes plant cells strong and flexible. It also dissolves stuff. That makes it possible for chemical reactions to happen inside plant cells—like the reactions a plant uses to make energy during photosynthesis. Plants also … » More …

    Read Story