Arctic foxes may be small, but they undergo powerful adaptations that help them survive in the snowy tundra, one of the planet’s most unforgiving biomes. One of their most important adaptations is the gift of camouflage: Arctic foxes’ fur changes color depending on the season. In winter, these animals grow dense white fur that keeps them warm and camouflages them in their snowy surroundings. In spring, they molt to reveal thinner, gray-brown fur to better blend in after the snow has melted away. Listen to hear more about this and other incredible adaptations of the Arctic fox.
Animals communicate through sounds, touch, visual signals, and scent, and each species has its distinct communication methods. In this audio story, Earth Ranger Emma presents examples of communication among various species, including elephants, and explains the messages and emotions that are being communicated. Listen to learn how and why animals communicate, how animal sounds reflect an environment’s health, and how people can safely respond to communications from animals.
North American river otters have adapted both physically and behaviorally to survive the long, cold winters of North America. This episode of Earth Rangers features an interview with a conservation zoologist about how the river otter’s physical features, behaviors, and social structures help it find the shelter and food it needs to survive, with a particular focus on the important relationship between river otters and beavers. Listen to hear about the physical and behavioral adaptations that help North American river otters thrive.
Wolverines are fierce predators and scavengers that live in the remote forests near the Arctic Circle. As these solitary animals need at least 500 square kilometers of space each and can travel vast distances each day, they are very difficult to spot in the wild. Wolverines play an important role in the ecosystem as they scavenge the carrion left behind by other predators. Listen to hear more about this elusive mammal, including why people walking through the forest shouldn’t worry about being attacked by one.
A new threat to human health, a disease called COVID-19, is spreading rapidly around the globe. The cause of COVID-19 is a coronavirus, named for the crown-like spikes on the surface of the virus particles. In this audio story, an infectious disease doctor describes COVID-19 and its symptoms, compares the novel (or new) coronavirus to the better-known coronavirus that causes the common cold, and explains why being novel helps the virus to spread. Listen to learn what scientists want people to do in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and protect the health of individuals, families, and communities.
Can talking to a plant make it grow faster? In the past, scientists studied the effect that human speech has on a plant’s growth. Those results were inconclusive. But here is another question to ponder: can plants talk to each other? If so, what’s the result? In this audio story, a scientist shares information about the world of plant communication. Listen to hear how plants communicate with each other -- and humans!
Current Event June 1, 2020
Antibody tests look for disease-fighting proteins in a person’s blood, a sign that they have had a particular disease and have built up immunity to the illness, at least for a while. However, it is still unknown whether COVID-19 antibodies have the same protective qualities as antibodies for other diseases. Medical experts say even those who test positive for antibodies should continue to socially distance and take other safety precautions until more is known. Listen to learn why people are taking the antibody test and how the results could help guide family decisions during the pandemic.
This audio story was recorded in mid-May. The news about COVID-19 is changing rapidly and parts of this story may be dated.
Current Event March 30, 2020
Countries that have extensively tested their populations for the COVID-19 virus have generally succeeded in containing the outbreak. Now debate has begun in the U.S. over how much testing makes sense in this country. Although many medical experts say aggressive testing would help to slow the spread of the disease, production of test kits has not kept up with demand. Listen to hear a public health expert explain why he believes testing is important for controlling the spread of COVID-19 and when he expects enough test kits to become available.
This audio story was recorded in mid-March. The news about COVID-19 is changing rapidly and parts of this story may be dated.
Current Event February 5, 2020
Scientists have developed a new, more accurate way to count a dog’s age in human years. Until now, people have generally believed that one year in a dog’s life equals seven years of human life. But when scientists compared chemical marks on dog and human DNA to see where they matched, they found surprising results about the relationship between dog and human ages. Listen to hear a scientist explain how the new technique works and what the research on canine aging means for dogs and their human friends.
Current Event October 29, 2019
With their sharp teeth and thirst for blood, vampire bats can be frightening. They have been known to bite the feet of sleeping children, and they sometimes spread disease. But these fuzzy, wrinkle-nosed creatures are also loving friends. Listen to learn more facts, both scary and surprising, about the legendary vampire bat.
All animals, including humans, need to sleep. Scientists have several theories that help explain why we sleep. In this episode of But Why, a child sleep psychologist describes the evolutionary theory of sleep and explains how sleep benefits the brain and body. Listen to learn more about the science of sleep and its importance for healthy growth and development.
Current Event September 18, 2019
People have noticed more fireflies, or “lightning bugs,” than usual in Chicago this summer. In this story, a scientist who has been studying these insects explains why he thinks fireflies are currently thriving in the area, what this might mean for local ecosystems, and what can be done to help cultivate the firefly population. Listen to learn more about these popular summer insects and how they “light the way” in the ecosystems where they live.
Current Event September 4, 2019
In order to prevent the California condor from going extinct, conservationists created a captive breeding program for the unique bird species. In the 1980s, they began gathering all the remaining California condors, breeding them, and releasing their offspring into the wild. Listen to learn more about “chick number 1000” and find out why one scientist thinks California condors are among the most remarkable birds in the world.
Current Event August 23, 2019
Should some animals be considered “persons”? One lawyer is working to classify certain animals as “persons” so they can be protected under the law. Specifically, the lawyer wants to send three elephants from the “Big E” fair in New England to a sanctuary, where they will no longer have to give rides to customers. The fair owner disagrees and wants to keep the animals. Listen to hear the arguments on both sides of this complex animal rights issue and then debate: Should elephants be considered property?
Current Event August 15, 2019
Has a dog ever given you “puppy eyes”? If so, you probably did whatever your furry friend wanted. According to a recent study, “puppy eyes” result from thousands of years of evolution impacted by the relationship between humans and dogs. This distinctive expression comes from a specific muscle and creates unique effects that help dogs become “man’s best friend.” Listen to learn more about why “puppy eyes” are so powerful and how studying dogs can help humans learn more about themselves.
Current Event June 7, 2019
Researchers from the United Kingdom now have scientific evidence that using e-cigarettes is significantly more effective for quitting smoking than other methods. However, U.S. public health officials worry that promoting e-cigarettes could increase nicotine addiction. Listen to this story to hear about the research study findings and debate: Is reducing smoking worth increasing nicotine addiction?
Current Event May 30, 2019
Everyone feels stress, which can have a significant impact on health. A new book explains how and why stress affects the body and describes what people can do to lower the negative effects of stress on their health. Listen to this interview with the authors to learn about the evolutionary value of stress and how to keep it from causing burnout in today’s modern world.
Current Event April 18, 2019
Would you like to eat apples that never turn brown? Scientists hoping to genetically modify plants for crop development think they may have found a solution to a major problem they have been facing. The cell walls of plants make it difficult to insert genetic material into plant cells to change how those plant cells work. The solution–carbon nanotubes–was discovered by accident. Listen to learn about the discovery and implementation of this nanotechnology solution and how it could change the way scientists breed new crop varieties.
Current Event February 20, 2019
The governor of Washington state has declared a state of emergency because of a recent measles outbreak. The majority of those sick from measles are children who were not vaccinated. Washington state has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Measles is very contagious, and people who are not vaccinated are at high risk of catching the disease when exposed to it. Listen to hear more about the role vaccinations play in public health and what Washington is doing to contain this dangerous measles outbreak.
Current Event January 23, 2019
Photosynthesis is the process that is foundationational for all life, in which plants use sunlight to change water and carbon dioxide into food and oxygen. Scientists have now genetically modified plants to perform that process more efficiently, thereby increasing agricultural productivity. Listen to this story to learn how researchers “hacked photosynthesis” and why it matters.