Zoo&A: Getting Quizzical!

12 February 2019

Interview with 

Stuart Eves - Cambridge University, Jacob Dunn - Anglia Ruskin University, Jason Head - Cambridge Univeristy, Eleanor Drinkwater - York University,

QUESTION-SPEECH

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It's time for a quiz! Chris Smith paired our panel into teams. Team One was primate expert Jacob Dunn and insect enthusiast Eleanor Drinkwater and Team Two was supervet Stuart Eves and reptile expert Jason Head.

Chris - So first of all, this is ‘weird science’, round one. Which of these animals, Jacob and Eleanor, has the highest blood pressure? Elephant; blue whale; giraffe; or flea? What do you think?

Eleanor - Must be giraffe… They've got really long leg necks!

Jacob - Fleas don’t have blood.

Chris - You’re gonna go giraffe?

Eleanor - Yeah, giraffe.

[sound for correct answer]

Chris - Yeah that's absolutely right! Owing to their long necks, giraffes do require a significant blood pressure: 280 over 180 millimeters of mercury. That's more than double the human equivalent - in a human it's about 180 over 80. Elephants a close contender: 180 over 20 for an elephant. But whales have very low blood pressure despite having blood vessels you could drive a car through in some cases. They've got such big blood vessels that the blood pressure is actually quite low and they're in a marine environment which also makes a difference. So well done, plus one to you.

Chris - Right. Jason and Stuart, here is your question. What's the biggest fruit that a blue whale could swallow? Is it (a) a watermelon; (b) a grapefruit; (c) a kiwi; or (d) a grape? What do you think?

Stuart- I’m gonna work on the fact that, because I think they probably an awful lot of krill, they don't actually probably need a massive esophagus to get it down. So I'm erring towards the smaller end. I'd probably pitch kiwi.

Jason - I'm going to go with the caveat that everything I work on is dead when it comes to thinking about this answer. They do have large throats... I would be tempted... I've lost this quiz every time I’ve played it, which makes me think that my answer is probably wrong. Either way I would think they would have a larger esophagus it would probably…

Chris - I’m gonna have to hurry you.

Jason - Grapefruit.

Chris - You're going grapefruit?

Stuart - I'll go I'll go with.

Chris - So the vet is deferring to the guy who works on dead stuff.

Stuart - Yeah.

[sound for correct answer]

Chris - But it is the right decision because it is a grapefruit. The blue whale’s esophagus for the right reason it's only 4 inches in diameter. They feed on plankton, exactly as you say, Stuart. They also eat small fish and marine crustaceans so they don't really to swallow very much. A grapefruit-sized object would fit down. Right, round two back to Jacob and Eleanor. It's one each on the scores at the moment, so you’re level pegging.

Chris - Is this true or false? Your dog could catch your cold. What do you think?

Eleanor - No. No. It can't be. No, I don't think so, it doesn’t sound right.

Jacob - False.

Eleanor - False.

Chris - You can’t give a cold to a dog?

Eleanor - I hope not.

[sound for correct answer]

Chris - You’re absolutely right! It is indeed false. The viruses that cause human common colds, like rhinoviruses are quite different from their canine equivalent, so your dog isn’t going to catch your cold if you sneeze in it. But there is an exception. Influenza viruses can jump between owners and their pets - that includes dogs. There's also one study in the literature: in 2009, a pet cat is documented to have died of swine flu. The owner got a catastrophic dose of swine flu and transmitted the infection to the cat. Plus one to you.

Chris - Back to Jason and Stewart. flies can taste food through their feet. What do you reckon? True or false? Did we make that up or is that true?

Stuart - Something in the back of my head says I've heard this before, and the answer is yes.

Jason - I will go with that as well.

[sound for correct answer]

Chris - You’re on fire! Everyone is doing very well. You might be changing history for yourself, Jason.

[laughter]

Chris - Indeed, the legs and the feet of flies, including butterflies have structures they call chemosensillium. They’re the insect equivalent of taste buds so they taste their food by walking on it. And that's pretty important because, before they stick their proboscis (the long straw-like thing they're going to suck the food up through to eat); they don’t want to suck up something they don't like, but they've got to get it into them before they discover they don't want it. So that's why they walk on it first: to see what it tastes like and see if it tastes juicy. So we are level pegging. Two all. So it's all on this round. Decide whether it goes to a tie breaker.

Chris - This round is called ‘weighty matters’. Which weighs more, Jacob and Eleanor: 1 ostrich egg or 30 chicken’s eggs?

Eleanor - Oh…

Jacob - One ostrich egg is really big.

Eleanor - But 30 quite a lot.

Jacob - It may depend on the size of the chicken egg.

Eleanor - Yeah, it’s a good point!

Jacob - When you go to a supermarket you get small, medium, large…

Chris - I’m going to have to hurry you!

Eleanor - Ostrich! Let’s go with ostrich.

[sound for wrong answer]

Eleanor - Oh no!

Chris - I'm sorry. It's actually the chicken eggs. Because the ostrich egg is the largest egg, it weighs 1.6 kilos and it's the equivalent of 25 big hen’s eggs. It takes 35 minutes to soft boil one.

Eleanor - [laughter]

Chris - My recipe du jour. Jason and Stuart, let's see if you can clinch it with this one and change, or, undo the PTSD that Jason's clearly suffering from as a consequence of previous experiences on the program. All of the humans on Earth, or all of the ants on Earth? What weighs more?

Jason - We will go with ants.

[sound for wrong answer]

Jason - Oh no!

Chris - I’m really sorry. No, it's actually the humans. There are more than 7 billion people, the combined weight of 7 billion people is more than 330 billion kilos. Now the estimates vary for the numbers of ants but if we take an upper limit of more than ten thousand trillion ants on Earth, which seems reasonable, the combined weight of all the ants will, therefore, be 40 billion kilos because an ant weighs about 4 milligrams. So we do outweigh the ants by about 10 to 1.

Chris - So it's a level pegging role to a tiebreaker. Right. Okay. You can still win, Jason. It's okay. You can do this! Okay. This part of the show what you've got to do is you've got a guess, ok? And the person who gets the closest answer gets the point. So it's all on this one. There is enough human DNA in an average person to go from the sun to Pluto and back how many times, do you think? You may confer in your teams, I’ll ask you what you think the answer is, and then we will work out who's closest. So we'll start with Jason and Stuart, what do you guys think? What's your answer?

Stuart - I think we'll go twice.

Chris - Twice? And what was your answer on this [asking Eleanor and Jacob]?

Eleanor - We decide to go for 8 times.

Chris - Well I'm sorry to say, Jason, you have not won. The answer 17 times. It's 6 billion kilometres to Pluto, there are 2 metres of DNA in every single one of your between 37 and 100 trillion cells in a person. Which means, actually, you’ve got enough in there to go 17 times to Pluto and back if you strung your DNA end to end.

Chris - And the winners this week (please give a quick round of applause) are: Jacob and Eleanor!

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