Do insects see the world in slow motion? (1)
Roslyn: You're listening to Brains On. Where we're serious about being curious.
Voice: Brains On is funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation
Molly: In today's episode, we're getting into all about how animals can see the world around them…
(music slows down and everything powers off)
Molly: Sigh. That's the third time we've lost power this week. What is going on!? Well -- Our switch for the backup generator is somewhere in here… (rustling around)
Roslyn: Do you think the experimental colony of blue iguanas is napping on the rooftop solar panels again?
Molly: Maybe! The iguanas do love the Brains On headquarters solar set up. It's also possible that Marc and Sanden are replacing the wind turbine blades…
Roslyn: They did mention decorating the turbines with sea shells - so when they spun we'd hear the ocean.
Molly: (rustling as if rummaging around) Roslyn, do you see a label that says ‘GENNY' anywhere?
Roslyn: Not yet. Who's Genny?
Molly: Sanden can only do maintenance work if the thing he's working on has a name and a plant nearby. The generator is named Genny, and there's a potted Queen of the night cactus next to it.
HAWKMOTH: Did HAWKMOTH hear someone say… queen of the night cactus blossom?
Molly: Who's that? !
HAWKMOTH: HAWKMOTH is here.
Roslyn: Hi… uh, Hawkmoth? Where did you come from? ?
HAWKMOTH: HAWKMOTH is….generally… around. But HAWKMOTH is HERE for Queen of the night blossoms. (wings flapping)
Molly: Do insects always refer to themselves in third person?
HAWKMOTH. Not all of them. But not all of them are named HAWKMOTH.
Roslyn: Fair point
HAWKMOTH: (wings flapping) Aaaaaand Ah. Here's that queen of the night. Good thing you have the lights off — this sweet and juicy delicacy only blooms at night, mmmm. (slurping)
Roslyn: How did you find that cactus flower...so fast? ?
HAWKMOTH: HAWKMOTH is way better at seeing in the dark than you humans! HAWKMOTH actually slows its brain down a little to take in more light when it's dark, to help HAWKMOTH see better. Nothing crazy, but a human wouldn't understand. (slurp slurp)
Molly: Oh wow. And here's Genny's switch, too. Thanks for your help, HAWKMOTH.
HAWKMOTH: Wait wait wait let me get one more sip before you turn those awful lights back off. Queen of the night blossoms and HAWKMOTH are both VERY nocturnal.
Molly: As nice as it is to meet you, HAWKMOTH, we do have to get back to taping the show — so you know, let us know when you've had your fill, ok? (straw sucking to empty noise)
HAWKMOTH: OK. HAWKMOTH is satisfied. Carry on.
(Switch, then power up)
Molly: You're listening to Brains On from American Public Media, I'm Molly Bloom and I'm here today with Roslyn from Duluth, Minnesota. Hi, Roslyn!
Molly: Today we're talking about how animals see the world, because you sent in a great question about this. Do you remember the question you sent?
Roslyn: Do insects see things slower than we do or faster?
Molly: What made you curious about that?
Roslyn: Well, I was actually watching a film where they had people who were walking slower and then were tiny people who were walking faster and it was, I don't know, it got me interested.
Molly: So you were thinking if you're a tiny insect do you see people slower just like the tiny humans in that movie?
Molly: That inspired us to look into the wild world of animal vision. And you're not the only one who wondered about how animals see the world.
Maya: Hi Brains On! I'm Maya and I was wondering why do we see different colors than animals?
Finja: My name is Finja and my question is do animals see the same rainbow we do and if not how is it different?
Silas: My name is Silas and I'm from Fairbanks, Alaska and my question is how do some animals see heat?
Zoya: Hi my name is Zoya.
Quinn: Hi my name is Quinn.
Zoya: Our question is why do we see colors that some animals can't see?
Harriet: Hi my name is Harriet and I'm from Ohio. My question is how can eagles and other birds see from so far away?
Molly: Before we get into animal eyeballs, let's talk a little bit about how we see the world.
Roslyn: Our brain builds a picture of the world from the light that our eyes take in.
Molly: Two kinds of cells at the back of your eye tell your brain what light is coming in. One is called a rod and the other is called a cone.
Roslyn: Rods are great for seeing in low light and cones tell your brain about color.
Molly: Rod and cone -- they kinda sound like a TV sitcom duo.
Voice: Rod and Cone! Friends in your eyeholes!
They're seeing the world
Sensing the light
Cone's good at color
And Rod's for low light! Yeah!
Rod: We're friends.
Cone: You got that right, buddy. High five!
Roslyn: I'd watch that with my rods and cones.
Molly: Same. So, speaking of cones -- most people have three kinds -- ones that sense blue, ones that sense green and ones that sense red. And those cones combine to help us see a lot of different colors.
Roslyn: By the way — people who are colorblind might have fewer cones, or their cones might not work as well, which makes it harder for them to tell colors apart. But even people with the usual number of cones can't see all the light in the world.
Molly: That's because light can travel in a wide range of energy levels. Our eyes can only detect a tiny fraction of it. Just a very specific range.
Roslyn: It's similar to hearing -- you know how you can hear this tone?
[TONE starts medium then goes up in pitch until it's impossible to hear]
Roslyn: But as it gets higher and higher in pitch ---- it gets harder and harder to hear. Until -- it's gone!
Molly: The tone is still there - we just can't hear it anymore. Our ears aren't equipped. But other animals might be able to hear it.
Dog: Woof woof!
Roslyn: Like dogs. They have good ears. Cute fluffy good ears.
Molly: It's similar with light. All the light we see is only part of the light out there. We call that visible light. But there's light that's much lower in energy - like radio waves and microwaves.
Roslyn: Which we can't see. (wah wah)
Molly: Then there's light that's much higher in energy - like ultraviolet waves or gamma waves.
Roslyn: Which we also can't see. (wah wah)
Molly: We call this entire range of light -- the electromagnetic spectrum! It's so cool and important, we wrote a song to help you remember it. The waves go in order from lowest energy to highest energy. Hit it singers!
Yeah, here we go
Space between waves gets shorter and shorter
Electromagnetic spectrum that's the order
It's the electromagnetic spectrum
The electromagnetic spectrum
These are the facts we checked em
The electromagnetic spectrum
Molly: So lovely.
Roslyn: And informative.
Molly: Exactly. Now, we can't see things outside the visible spectrum -- but some animals can!
And they… have some feelings about it. We checked out an animal vision support group to hear more about that.
(murmury talking, some shuffling)
Mal the Mantis: Ahem, Welcome to the Eyes Wider Open support group. Here, we can all share what it's like to see the world, through our eyes. If we haven't, ahem, SEEN you here before, heh heh, welcome.
Monty the Mantis: OK, OK, some of you are tired of my little joke. Thank you for that feedback. I wanna kick off with intros. So I'll start. I'm Mal, I'm a mantis shrimp. I can see ultraviolet light, and I have a bunch of different color sensing cells, but scientists don't think I'm great at telling colors apart. And I'm still processing that.
Cecily Snake: I'm Cecily. I'm a pit viper and I'm amazing. I see a heat map of whatever I'm looking at.
Caleb Caribou: I'm Caleb, I'm a caribou, and I have really big eyeballs that can see ultraviolet light, like Mal. That makes my world much brighter.
Landry Lab: (pants) Hi, I'm Landry. (pants) I'm a yellow lab. My eyes have two kinds of cone cells. So I can tell blue and yellowish stuff apart pretty well. But the other colors are a bit mushy.
Bo Bluebottle: And I'm Bo. I'm a bluebottle butterfly. I have exquisite color vision. Like Caleb and Mal, I also see UV.
Mal: Wow. Great. Thank you all so much. So who'd like to start today?
Cecily Snake: I'll sssstart.
Mal: Thanks, Cecily.
Cecily Snake: So you know, pit vipers have these two pit organs on our faces, see— they look like second nostrils, but bigger. They help me ssssseeeee in a different way. My pit organs sense heat. My eyes see what's around me. And my brain puts the two together.
Mal: Fascinating. How do you feel about that?
Cecily Snake: Ugh. Well, for one thing, I'm tired of getting here, and looking at the coffee, and seeing that it's cold. The coffee here is never hot and it's ssssso uncivilized that you all just keep eating and drinking lukewarm stuff. If you had any decent snacks, I'd spot them right away! Would it kill you to put a warm mouse on the snack table every once in a while
Mal the Mantis: Good note, thank you for sharing, Cecily. I'll going to pass your snack request on. Who'd like to share next?
Caleb Caribou: I can. You know, I'm just feeling a little misunderstood. Like, no offense Mal and Bo, but everyone gets why bugs and shrimps use their UV vision to find friends and food. But they just don't get me.
Mal the Mantis: Wow, Caleb. That sounds really hard. Can you say more?
Caleb Caribou: Well, seeing UV light helps me tell important things apart, too! Snow vs. lichen vs. a hungry wolf, for instance. It's extra helpful to let more light into my eyes in the dark arctic winter, when my world is a deep, deep blue. But also, UV vision highlights urine. So, I knew not to sit in the chair that Landry marked, for instance.
Landry the Lab: (pants) Couldn't help myself! Apologies!
Mal the Mantis: So expressive, Landry. Thank you. And thanks for sharing Caleb. Bo -- you haven't shared for a while. (fades out)
Molly: Okay, let's give our eyes a rest and instead - activate our ears. It's time for the
Whisper: Mystery Sound!
Molly: Here it is.
Molly: What is your guess?
Roslyn: I think it's some sort of seal, maybe a sea gull?
Molly: A seal or a seagull, excellent guess. We're gonna hear it again and be back with the answer in just a little bit.
Molly: We're working on an episode about our favorite kind of suit.
Molly: Even cooler -- spacesuits! These technological wonders let humans survive in the cold, harsh and otherwise deadly vacuum of space.
Roslyn: Yeah, swimsuits definitely can't do that.
Molly: Of course, we humans make all kinds of special suits -- ones that let us dive deep underwater, ones that protect firefighters from flames -- even ones that can camouflage us so we blend in with nature. So Roslyn -- if you could have a special suit that could help you with some task - any task -- what would it do?
Roslyn: Possibly a bike maintenance suit?
Molly: Ooh. Tell me more.
Roslyn: It would have all the things I'd need to fix my bike if, say, my tire popped.
Molly: That would be useful.
Roslyn: Yes it would.
Molly: What color would you want it to be?