If beetles seem to be everywhere, that’s because they are. Some beetles stand out because they’re colorful. Think about jewel beetles and ladybugs. Others play useful and weird roles in the ecosystem—like the poop-rolling dung beetle. Their ancestors probably even ate dinosaur poop.
Nobody knows exactly how many beetles there are, but scientists have some ideas. I talked about it with my friend Joel Gardner. He’s the collection manager for the insect museum at Washington State University.
When scientists find a new species, they describe what it looks like. They give it a name. They publish that information so other people know about it. That’s called describing a species. Scientists describe new insect species all the time.
Gardner told me scientists have described about 400,000 species of beetles so far. There are many more beetles we don’t know about yet. Altogether, there are probably between 1 million and 2 million beetle species.
If you looked inside a T. rex mouth, you’d see some 12-inch teeth. That’s longer than my tail!
I asked my friend Aaron Blackwell if dinosaurs used those big chompers on humans. He’s an anthropologist who studies human biology at Washington State University. He told me dinosaurs and humans didn’t live at the same time.
“Dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago—before there were even primates,” Blackwell said. “So, they could never have eaten a human or even a monkey.”
Humans have kept dogs as pets for more than 14,000 years. That close friendship inspires scientists to explore questions like yours.
I talked about how dogs age with my friend Ryan Baumwart. He’s a heart doctor for dogs. He teaches in the veterinary hospital at Washington State University.
I asked Baumwart if a dog year is equal to seven human years.
“I think it's a good general rule,” he said. “But some larger breed dogs like bullmastiffs and Great Danes have a shorter lifespan of 6 to 8 years. So if you do the math, they get shorted. Then some small breed dogs like Chihuahuas seem to live forever.”
There’s really nothing cuter than baby animals. Many animal parents invest lots of time into caring for their young and teaching them to survive.
I talked about your question with my friend Amber Adams-Progar. She’s an animal sciences professor at Washington State University. She’s also an expert in dairy cow behavior. She told me that non-human animals learn in ways that are like how humans learn.
From jellyfish to snakes to spiders, lots of animals use poison or venom. It helps them catch prey and defend themselves. Even the platypus and one very spicy primate called the slow loris use venom.
I talked about your question with my friend Blair Perry. He’s a biologist at Washington State University. He’s also a snake expert.
Perry told me the difference between poison and venom. They’re both toxic mixes of mostly proteins. But they get into your body in different ways. Poison is eaten, breathed in or absorbed through the skin. Venom is injected through a bite or sting.
When I read your question, I thought about elephants. There’s evidence that elephants have complex emotions—like grief when their relatives die or affection for humans who help them. Whales, dolphins, non-human primates and even dogs sometimes seem like they have complex emotions, too.
It makes us wonder if animals seek comfort and meaning the same ways humans do—like through religion. We truly don’t know the answer to your question. It’s something people have wondered about for a long time.
Exploring deep questions is the work of my friend Joe Campbell. He’s a philosopher at Washington State University.
We often think of religion as beliefs and behaviors. They relate to the supernatural—something beyond us and what we see in the natural world.
Campbell told me that underneath many religious beliefs and behaviors is a feeling: awe. It’s a proto-religious attitude. Proto means first.
Starfish might have the coolest—and strangest—way of gobbling up a snack.
I learned all about it from my friend Cori Kane. She studied coral reefs when she was a biology Ph.D. student at Washington State University. Now she works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She writes policies to help protect the ocean and the animals that live there.
“Sea stars are probably one of the weirdest creatures. I don't know any other organism that basically barfs out its stomach to eat,” Kane said.
Yes, you heard that right. She said sea stars barf out their stomachs.
There are lots of things that make a place feel like home. Your home is probably full of sights, sounds and smells that feel familiar and cozy. Those things are important for animals in captivity, too.
To find out more, I talked with Charles Robbins, a wildlife biologist at Washington State University. He started the WSU Bear Center. It’s the only grizzly bear research center in the United States.
“The most important thing to bears and probably most animals is a feeling of safety—that they’re not being hurt, and the food is good,” Robbins said. “Probably all the same things that … » More …
An octopus has three hearts and long arms with suction cups. It probably seems very different from you. But you have the main ingredients of octopus ink in your body, too!
I talked about octopus ink with my friend Gretchen Rollwagen-Bollens, associate professor in WSU’s School of the Environment. She told me that ink isn’t just an octopus thing. Most animals called cephalopods (sef-uh-luh-pods) make it. These include octopus, squid and cuttlefish.
Cephalopods including octopuses use color a lot. They have sacs of colored pigments all over their bodies. They use those sacs to change their body color. That helps them blend into their environment.
They also make and store a dark pigment in special ink sacs.
At the end of the day, you probably curl up in a cozy bed for a little shut eye. Unlike you, most spiders have eight eyes, and they never shut any of them. They don’t even have eyelids!
I talked about spider sleep with my friend Richard Zack, an entomologist and professor in WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. He also runs the biggest insect museum in the state of Washington at WSU. He told me that spiders and insects do rest. They nestle into a safe spot and enter a “stupor,” which means they’re very still.
If you ever visit the beach, take a look at all the animals: crabs scuttling across the sand, seals bobbing on the waves and sea stars tucked into tide pools. Maybe there are even whales spouting on the horizon. Earth’s oceans are home to thousands of creatures.
But, as you know, human pollution reaches our waterways and all the animals that live in them.
To learn more, I talked to my friend Erica Crespi, an associate professor in the Washington State University School of Biological Sciences. Crespi studies how animals that live in water respond to all kinds of stresses, including pollution. Read More ...
There are a lot of different reasons why a clam might open its shell. My friend Jonathan Robinson, a marine ecologist at Washington State University, told me all about it.
If we spent some time where the ocean meets the shore, or the intertidal zone, we might observe how clams open their shells when they need to eat, breathe or move around. Read More ...
When you eat food, you get a lot of important nutrients that help you grow. The trees that live on our planet also need some nutrients to grow.
Trees use their leaves to help capture energy from the sun to make their own food. But as you may have noticed, a lot of trees lose their leaves during certain times of the year.
Without leaves, they can’t make nearly as much food, and without those important nutrients, they can’t grow very fast.
That’s what I found out from my friend Tim Kohlhauff, a certified arborist and urban horticulture coordinator at Washington State University. He is very curious about the lives of trees. Read More ...
Worms can help the soil in a few different ways. One helpful thing worms do is move around different materials, such as leaves and grasses, and make holes in the soil.
That’s what I found out from my friend Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, a soil scientist at Washington State University, who was happy to help with your question.
“Worms are actually very strong,” Carpenter-Boggs said. “They can break through soil and make holes that allow air, water and plant roots to follow those channels.” Read More ...
When I got your question, I called up my friend and veterinarian Dr. Macarena Sanz who had just finished checking up on the horses at the Washington State University Teaching Hospital. She was happy to help.
“It’s a hard question to assess scientifically,” Sanz said. “But I think everybody who has worked with horses can tell you that horses really do have a certain sense about humans.” Read More ...
Our planet is home to all kinds of different plants, and they help make a lot of the oxygen we breathe. To find out how plants make oxygen, I asked my friend Balasaheb Sonawane.
Sonawane is a scientist at Washington State University who researches photosynthesis, or the ways plants use energy from the sun and make oxygen. He said that in a way, plants breathe, too.
“They don’t have a nose or mouth,” Sonawane said. “They have tiny microscopic organs on their leaves called stomata.” Read More ...
Flying squirrels may not really fly, but they do have flaps of skin on their bodies that act like parachutes and help them glide through the air.
My friend Todd Wilson told me all about it. He’s a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon and graduate of Washington State University who researches Pacific Northwest ecosystems and the animals that call them home— including flying squirrels. Read More ...
Just as blood moves important stuff around the human body, sugary sap moves important things around a tree.
My friend Nadia Valverdi told me all about it. She’s a researcher at Washington State University who studies how apple and cherry trees survive in different environments.
When we eat food, like a delicious apple or a handful of cherries, we get important nutrients. Read More ...
When you see a ring of mushrooms, it’s likely they are exploring for food under the ground.
Giant mushrooms in your backyard are not animals or plants. They are part of another class of living organisms called fungi. But like you and me, they do need food to survive.
That’s what I found out from my friend David Wheeler, an assistant professor at Washington State University, who knows a lot about fungi.
He said the mushrooms are just one part of fungi. The other part that explores the soil for food actually lives under the soil. Read More ...
A lot of apes walk on their knuckles. Gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos use their knuckles for stability and balance.
That’s what I found out from my friend Nanda Grow, an anthropologist and wildlife biologist at Washington State University who studies primates.
“Gorillas and chimpanzees both do knuckle walking, but they do different kinds,” she said. Read More ...
There are lots of tiny living things on our planet that we call microbes. They live in the soil, water, air, your gut, and on your face. You’d probably need a microscope to see them.
While we can't exactly count all the microbes on the planet, we do know there are about a billion microbes in a teaspoon of soil. Read More ...
Bee wings may be small, but they are really strong. I learned all about bee wings from my friend Melanie Kirby, a honey bee researcher at Washington State University.
Kirby said you can think about bee wings as if they were a kite. If you make a kite out of thin tissue, it might rip. But if you make it out of a strong plastic film it will be stronger.
Bee wings are made of a material called chitin (KITE-IN) and it’s a lot like keratin, the material that makes up your fingernails. Chitin is what makes up the wings on each side of the bee’s body. Read More ...
Birds have nostrils, or nares, on their beaks that can help them smell all kinds of things.
That’s what I found out from my friend Dave Oleyar, a scientist with HawkWatch who recently taught a course on ornithology at Washington State University.
He said that when an animal breathes air, they can also breathe in different scents or combinations of molecules.
The nose has receptors that pick up on scents and send information to the brain, including a part called an olfactory bulb. It’s all part of the olfactory system. You have an olfactory system, too. This system can help animals navigate the world through a sense of smell. Read More ...
That’s a great observation. Birds make all kinds of sounds and for lots of different reasons.
When I got your question, I called up my friend Jessica Tir, a graduate student at Washington State University who studies songbirds.
She said one of the main reasons a bird will make a loud sound is to attract a mate. When the birds find each other, they can make a nest for their eggs and wait for babies to hatch. Read More ...
We can find all kinds of leaves on our planet. Just think of tiny pine needles, fern fronds, ivy vines, or a big banana leaf.
My friend Eric Roalson is a professor at Washington State University who is very curious about plants. He said there are a few things that give leaves their shapes.
The shape of a leaf can depend on the family history of a plant, the group it belongs to, and the environment where it grows up. Read More ...
I’ve been wondering the same thing lately. Every time I go on walks, I notice new splashes of color. Watching bugs in the grass, I pretend they’re crawling through a jungle. Everything is bright and bursting with green.
When I saw your question, I knew Michael Neff would know the answer. Green is his favorite color, too. (In fact, when we talked over video, he wore a green Hawaiian shirt.) Neff researches plants at Washington State University, and he is especially curious about grasses.
If you chopped a piece of grass and looked at it with your eyes alone, you might not see much. But if you looked at it under a microscope, you’d see tiny structures containing even tinier parts.
When you picture the carrot section at a grocery store in the United States, you probably imagine rows of orange. But carrots can come in a rainbow of other colors: purple, yellow, red, and more.
And the first carrots weren’t orange at all. They were stark white.
That’s what I learned from Tim Waters, a Vegetable Specialist at Washington State University-Extension. He studies how to grow different kinds of vegetables, and helps others learn how to grow them too.
Some people get nervous when they go to the doctor. Maybe you’re one of them. You may not enjoy all of the visit, but you understand the doctor wants to help you. (And that a treat might await you at the end.)
But if an elephant gets sick, they can’t understand a doctor’s words. They may get confused and scared, until it’s too dangerous to help them.
That’s why sleeping darts—also known as tranquilizer darts—help so much.
“It’s safer for both the humans and the elephant because the humans aren’t right next to a wild animal, and the animal isn’t being chased to try to catch it,” Dr. Tamara Grubb said. She is a veterinarian at Washington State University who specializes in anesthesiology, drugs that make animals calm, sleepy, or unable to feel pain.
Seashells come in an astounding variety. Some are curved and round, others long and tube-like. Some are smooth, others bumpy. Some are large, others small. Plus, they come in a rainbow of colors: red, green, brown, purple, pink, and more.
All that variety comes from the same source: little animals called mollusks, with a mighty muscle called a mantle.
I found out all about them from my friend Richelle Tanner, a scientist at Washington State University. She is very curious about the ocean and knows a lot about mollusks, a type of animal with a soft, moist body.
Sea turtles spend almost their entire lives in the ocean. Even as babies, sea turtles’ bodies have special traits for living at sea, helping them glide and paddle through the water. After emerging from their eggs, baby sea turtles (called “hatchlings”) scramble to the ocean to live the rest of their lives. Only female sea turtles return to land as adults, to lay eggs and begin the cycle again.
I talked with my friend Frank Paladino to learn more about sea turtles. He completed his Ph.D. at Washington State University. Today he is a professor at Purdue University-Fort Wayne and former president of the International Sea Turtle Society. He is especially interested in leatherbacks, the largest living turtle.
The trees that lose their leaves in fall, such as chestnuts, oaks, aspens, and maples, are called deciduous trees. Once they lose their leaves, most aren’t able to take in carbon dioxide gas from the air or produce any oxygen.
That’s what I found out from my friend Kevin Zobrist, a professor of forestry at Washington State University.
“Don’t fret, though,” Zobrist said. “For they more than make up for it in the summer.”
Whenever I go for a hike in the woods, I can’t help but admire the tall evergreen trees. No matter what time of year it is, the pines, hemlocks, cedars, and spruces are usually all green.
My friend Bert Cregg is also very curious about the lives of trees. He graduated from Washington State University and is a professor at Michigan State University. Read More ...
You’re right, snakes have an amazing sense of smell. They can use their tongues to pick up on all kinds of scents in the air.
Whenever we smell something in the air, we are actually sniffing tiny building blocks called molecules. These molecules are what make up the scents of everything around us—things like baked bread, fresh-cut grass, and warm cookies.
If you were a snake, you might sniff out the scent of a slug or mouse. You’d use your tongue to pull the molecules from the air into your mouth. Read More ...
We can learn a lot about animals of the past from fossils, the imprints or remains we find in rocks. One fossil found in the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming helped us learn about the oldest known horses.
These horses are called Sifrhippus (siff-RIP-us). They had four toes on each foot and were very small.
Believe it or not, these tiny horses weighed only about ten pounds. That’s just a bit heavier than your average house cat. According to the fossil records, Sifrhippus lived somewhere between 54 and 30 million years ago.
When I went to visit my friend Lane Wallett, she told me all about the history of horses. As a veterinarian and a paleontologist at Washington State University, she is very curious about both horses and fossils. Read More ...
Take a big, deep breath. As you inhale and exhale, you can probably feel the air taking up space in your lungs.
The air we breathe is made up of a few different things. It includes gases such as nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide—just to name a few. Animals breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. But in the plant world, it’s the opposite.
Trees, plants, and even algae in the ocean, take in carbon dioxide from the air and, using the energy of the sun, transform it into the oxygen we all breathe. Read More ...
Dogs are important to humans in all kinds of ways. The connection between the two goes back thousands of years.
A long time ago, wolves would trail along after humans on hunting trips and eat any scraps they could find. Eventually these wolves evolved into dogs that helped protect the hunters and gatherers. Read More ...
It’s great to hear you want to help our oceans. After all, they do a lot for us. Life in the ocean provides much of the oxygen we breathe and is also a source of food for many animals, including humans.
One of the most important things we can do to prevent more pollution is to keep our garbage, especially plastic, out of the ocean. That’s what I found out from my friend Richelle Tanner, a marine biologist and researcher at Washington State University.
While a lot of plastic ends up in the ocean, it actually started under the Earth’s surface in the form of oil, leftovers of plants and animals that died long ago. Read More ...
Flowers not only smell nice to humans, but also to many insects and birds who help the flowers do a really important job. Let’s imagine that you are a bee or a butterfly. You don’t have a nose on your face, but instead use your two antennae to smell things.
As you fly around, you catch a whiff of chemicals floating in the air. Down below, you see a field of daisies. The flowers are releasing some chemicals, which are the building blocks of a smell.
Read More ...
We can find millions and millions of plankton in bodies of water all over the world—from oceans, rivers, and lakes to ponds and mud puddles.
That’s what I found out from my friend Julie Zimmerman, a scientist with the Aquatic Ecology Lab at Washington State University. In the lab, researchers can use powerful microscopes to get an up-close look at these tiny creatures. Read More ...
Our world is full of fruits that have all kinds of delightful smells. Maybe you’ve smelled the sweetness of watermelon, pineapple, peach, papaya, or mango. But you might also be wondering about the most stinky fruit in the world.
When I got your question, I asked my friend Lydia Tymon, a plant scientist at Washington State University. The first stinky fruit she thought of was the durian, a large, round fruit that grows mostly in Southeast Asia. The fruit is about a foot wide with a greenish-brown husk that has lots of spikes on the outside. Read More ...
Bunnies are hopping all over our planet. Some hop through snow and deserts while others hop through wetlands and woods. There are lots of different kinds of rabbits and they are all a little different. For the most part, a bunny hops, or actually runs, anywhere between 25 and 45 mph That’s even faster than most house cats can run.
Rabbits are related to another group of animals called hares. Actually, rabbits and hares are in the same family, Leporidae. Hares look a lot like rabbits, but they have much bigger ears and bigger feet. Read More ...
There are quite a few foods that are sweet and good to eat. A lot of them are fruit, said my friend Pablo Monsivais. He’s an associate professor at the Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.
Our planet is home to all kinds of lizards. Maybe you’ve seen one climbing up the wall, scurrying through the grass, or at the pet store. Just the other day I saw a big green iguana when I visited the Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in search of an answer to your question.
There are a lot of different grasshoppers living on our planet. In fact, scientists have discovered more than 11,000 species. Exactly how these grasshoppers spend their winter depends on what kind of winter they experience.
If you’re like me, you’ve picked up a little dandelion fluff ball and blown the seeds around. Weeds like these make a lot of seeds. They get picked up by the wind and planted far and wide. And as you observe, they grow pretty fast, too.
Ants are pretty good little weightlifters. My friend Rich Zack, a scientist at Washington State University who studies insects, knows a lot about ants. One kind of ant that he has studied can carry up to 20 times its own weight.
You know summer is just around the corner when the smell of barbecue is in the air. It’s a great question you ask and it leads us to the Meats Lab at Washington State University. That’s where I met up with my friend and animal scientist, Jan Busboom.
You’re right, turtles and tortoises live a lot longer than most other animals. If you were a turtle, you might live for more than 150 years. One giant Galápagos tortoise named Harriet even lived to be more than 170 years old, said my friend Donna Holmes.
Our brains are pretty busy. They are constantly thinking, feeling, and sensing our world. One thing that can help some people relax is spending time with an animal friend. You might play fetch with a dog, sit with a cat, brush a horse, or even watch a goldfish zip around its bowl.
People who spend a lot of time with animals might tell you that something special seems to be going on here. But scientists are looking for evidence and want to find out for certain just what is going on. They want to know … » More …
A lush tropical rainforest, a field of sunflowers, a garden in your neighborhood. Our Earth is home to all kinds of plant life. From trees to catnip, there are thousands of different species of plants. Most of these plants are green, but not all of them.
You’re right. It can take a really long time for some things to decay.
If we buried an apple peel in the backyard it might only take a few weeks to break down into the soil. But if we buried a plastic water bottle, it would probably still be there hundreds of years from now.
Animals can get through winter in all kinds of ways. Us cats like to curl up on a cozy couch. Some penguins huddle in groups to create heat. A lot of birds fly south to warmer weather. Perhaps you put on mittens and a coat.
Curiosity can lead us cats to some pretty great heights. We like to climb trees and sneak along tall bookshelves. Sometimes we might have a bumpy landing, but more often our amazing cat reflexes help us land on our feet.
Ever since I was a kitten, I’ve loved picking up big maple leaves in the fall. I’d take them home, put them under a piece of paper, and rub the side of a crayon over the top. It makes a great print of the leaf.
When I saw your question, I set out to explore with my bug net and a magnifying glass. I was searching all around for tiny insects when I ran into my friend Laura Lavine, a Washington State University scientist who studies bugs.
She said there are nearly a million different kinds of insects on Earth. The smallest of all the known ones are called fairyflies.
You know, your question reminds me of a couple other science questions from curious readers. Evangeline, age 7, wants to know why her hair is black. Sureya, age 8, wants to know why some people have curly hair.
It just so happens that one of my favorite science projects explores our questions about what makes us unique. It has to do with our DNA, or the blueprint for life.
My claws can come in quite handy when I need to scratch my ears or climb trees. I bet you’ve found that your own fingernails can be useful tools, too. Perhaps you’ve used them to pick up a penny or peel an orange.
When I got your question, I met up with my friend Hans Van Dongen, a scientist at Washington State University in Spokane. He works in a research lab where they study sleep. As a cat who appreciates naps, it’s one of my favorite places to visit.
When bees make hexagons in their hives, the six-sided shapes fit together perfectly. In fact, we’ve actually never seen bees make any other shape. That’s what I found out when I visited my friend Sue Cobey, a bee researcher at Washington State University.
Cobey showed me some honeycombs where the female bees live and work. Hexagons are useful shapes. They can hold the queen bee’s eggs and store the pollen and honey the worker bees bring to the hive.
When you think about it, making circles wouldn’t work too well. It would leave gaps in the honeycomb. The worker bees could use triangles or squares for storage. Those wouldn’t leave gaps. But the hexagon is the strongest, most useful shape.
Mollusks, from land snails and slugs to oysters and mussels in the sea, have a few things in common. They have a head. They have a soft middle part that holds their organs. Then, some have a muscle that’s known as a “foot.”
Well, we don’t know for certain. Looking up to the stars at night, I’ve often wondered if alien cats are out chasing alien mice or taking naps on other planets.
My imagination aside, your questions are like those scientists are asking, too. And it’s no wonder we are so curious.
With billions of planets in our galaxy, including small Earth-like worlds, the possibility of life out there is an exciting thought to many people. So, humans have set out to look for planets that might support life.
In fact, this month scientists announced the Kepler spacecraft’s discovery of … » More …
It’s Shark Week, so I made a visit to my friend Jon Mallatt. He’s a Washington State University biologist who has studied the jaws of ancient sharks.
Jon Mallatt: Some of them, such as tiger sharks, cat sharks, and even great white sharks, have quite large brains—relative to their body weight— and are intelligent. They are not “primitive” animals. The shark relatives, Manta rays and devil rays, have even larger brains than any shark.
Dr. U: How long have sharks been around, anyways?
JM: At least 420 million years and maybe 460. It is … » More …
The dodo bird isn’t with us anymore, but if you visit a city park you’ll likely see one of its very close relatives walking around. It might even be nibbling on a French fry. Dodos were a pigeon, said my friend Michael Webster.
Springtime sets the stage for one of the greatest transformations in the natural world.
“It’s the construction of a butterfly or moth from caterpillar soup,” said my friend David James, an entomologist at Washington State University. James studies the science behind metamorphosis, or how a creature transforms.
My friend Kate Evans said the answer really depends on whether you want the perspective of a person, a plant, or even a cat. Evans is a plant scientist at Washington State University in Wenatchee, where she investigates fruit in the Apple Capital of the World.
She explained how long ago, wild apples actually grew in forests. Without farmers around to plant them in orchards, trees had to scatter their own seeds to survive.
For some trees, the key to survival is growing sweet, ripe fruit.
Where does dirt come from? -Brian, Pullman, WA
In just a word, the story of soil goes something like this: “CLORPT!" It’s fun to say, and it helps explain how tough rock turns into the soft soil farmers need to grow food and feed the world. Read More ...
About 85-feet long (half a football field) and 65 tons (about 7 T-Rexes), the largest dinosaur scientists know about is Dreadnoughts. She was a plant-eater and with her 37-foot-long neck probably had no problem reaching the leaves at the top of trees.