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Bats! Owls! Creepy-crawlies! For Halloween, we asked Liz from our Live Animal Care Center some of the best questions we've heard at the Museum about spooky species.This Pulsar podcast is brought to you by #MOSatHome. We ask questions submitted by listeners, so if you have a question you'd like us to ask an expert, send it to us at email@example.com.
ERIC: Did you know that bats can locate objects using sound? Happy Halloween from Pulsar. Today we're going to answer some creepy questions about spooky animals owls, bats, spiders, and more.
I'm your host, Eric. Thanks to Facebook Boston for supporting this episode of Pulsar.
Joining me is Liz Logan, the assistant curator of our Live Animal Care Center, who has been taking care of animals at the Museum of Science for over 15 years and also taught me pretty much everything I know about handling snakes, frogs, and owls. Liz, thanks for joining me on our special Halloween episode.
LIZ: Thanks for having me.
ERIC: So we got a lot of great questions on our social media when we asked for them. And I also wanted to get to some of my favorite questions that I've been asked over the years. So to start out, why does it seem like certain creepy crawlies like spiders are attracted to us?
LIZ: Yeah, I don't think a lot of times, they're seeking us out. I think it's more they're seeking out what we have to offer. If you think about it, our homes provide shelters for a lot of these animals and, a lot of times, food. Spiders are often in our house, and they're actually helping you out. They're eating a lot of insects and pests they might find around.
ERIC: And diving right into the most popular question we get about animals, the extremes in size. So while we're talking about spiders, which one is the largest?
LIZ: So the biggest spiders are always really impressive to me and really exciting. Actually, the title has to be shared by two spiders. The Huntsman spider has the biggest kind of wingspan or leg span - 9 to almost 12 inches in length. So that is the longest spider. But there is actually a heavier spider.
It is the Goliath Bird Eating Tarantula, which I think the name alone is just pretty awesome for that animal. And they can get up to about 175 grams. So it is a pretty impressive spider.
ERIC: I still get goosebumps just thinking about it, but you trained me to work with one of our Goliath Bird Eating Tarantulas, even though I have a debilitating fear of spiders. So thanks for helping me face my fears.
And since you've worked with so many different spiders, I know you'll be perfect to answer this next question, one of my favorites that we've ever received the whole time we've been doing the podcast - do spiders have personalities?
LIZ: They actually do have personalities. To give you a quick example, I've worked with a couple of different Goliath Bird Eating Tarantulas. The one that, unfortunately, is no longer alive but did live in the butterfly garden for years, she was actually pretty accustomed to shifting into a smaller case, so she could go out for programs.
She was really good about it. She was pretty slow moving. So she was really chill for a spider, if you can believe that.
Then we have several of the same species. So we have three Mexican red kneed tarantulas. And one is really feisty, one is pretty chill. So they might not have personalities as distinct as your pets, but they definitely do have different personalities.
ERIC: Well, that's kind of cool to think of, actually. Another spider question we got was, why do they have hair?
LIZ: Yeah, so we usually think of the tarantulas as the big, hairy spiders. And that is definitely an accurate assessment of what they are. But actually, all spiders have small, tiny, fine hairs on their bodies. It's kind of their way of sensing. They don't have ears, so it's sort of like a way of feeling vibrations.
They can detect movement, so it helps them with their hunting. Some of those big, scary tarantulas that you might think of actually will use the hairs defensively as well. So it can actually rub the hairs off of their bodies, in some cases. And it can be irritating if it gets on a predator's eyes, in their face. Even they can just irritate the skin.
ERIC: Another question we got was what unique or interesting abilities some of these spooky animals might have.
LIZ: One that immediately came to mind would be bats. Because if you think about it, bats are pretty amazing. They tend to be active when it's really dark. So they can't see that well in general, never mind when it's completely dark. So they use echolocation, kind of sending off sound waves.
And it bounces back to them and helps them determine where kind of something is. Really helpful if it's dark and you can't see that well.
Other nighttime animals - owls, for example, have really special eyes that help them see in really low levels of light. Then if you even think about things like snakes, they have crazy, flexible jaws. They can open their mouths two to three times the size of their head. So yeah, there is a ton of different abilities that a lot of these animals have.
ERIC: Speaking of owls, another animal you've trained me on handling is our barn owl, Po. When she flies across our theater, it's completely silent. But a lot of her feathers are bright white. And Jonathan from our podcast team answered this question in his barn owl show, but can you also tell us why would those feathers be white? Wouldn't that make it harder for a barn owl to be stealthy?
LIZ:Yeah, it is really cool that scientists have kind of looked into this. 'Cause barn owls, actually, for a long time, used to scare people and probably still do because they're bright white. They often would fly out and shriek coming out of an abandoned church or building. So scientists actually looked into that.
And it turns out that the white is actually a startle response for prey. So the animals that the barn owl is trying to hunt do get so startled, and the moonlight really shines off of them and it looks bright white. And they're startled enough that they pause for that extra second. And then, the barn owl is able to swoop down and get them pretty quickly.
ERIC: Another category of spooky animals are things like scorpions and snakes. And the first question from every visitor when you've got a scorpion out in the exhibit halls is, is it poisonous? And the answer is no, but because they are venomous, but not poisonous. So can you explain the difference between venom and poison?
LIZ: Yeah, that is definitely something that I get asked all the time. People use the words interchangeably. But like you said, there is actually a difference. So poison is ingested. This is something you eat or gets in a mucus membrane of some sort. And that is going to hurt you or make you sick.
So some frogs can be poisonous. Plants can be poisonous. Something like arsenic is a poison. Something that is venomous must inject a toxin. The spiders, the scorpions, the centipedes, snakes, typically, it would be venom and not poison.
ERIC: And building on that, we often get asked, which snakes are dangerous?
LIZ: So there are definitely some dangerous snakes. I know a lot of times, people are afraid of snakes. But it's actually a pretty small percentage. There's about 3,600 species of snakes. Less than 600 are venomous. And less than 200 are extremely harmful or can kill humans. So if you think of it like that, it's actually not a crazy number.
But with that being said, everyone always wants to know what are the most venomous, the most dangerous snakes. Probably the two tops in any list that I've ever found, one is called the saw-scaled viper. It's not a huge snake. It's native to India, but it's really aggressive.
There's also something called an inland taipan. And that is the most toxic. It has the most venom. That is an Australian one. A lot of scary animals live in Australia, actually.
Other than that, other kind of top venomous dangerous snakes would be king cobra, just based on size. They are the largest venomous snake. And then, some of you probably have heard of black mambas. They're an extremely fast venomous snake. So they can go at about 11 miles per hour. So those are kind of your top dangerous snakes.
There are actually pretty venomous sea snakes out there, but your chances of coming across a sea snake are pretty slim.
ERIC: And what about here in New England? Do we have any venomous snakes in our part of the world?
LIZ: We actually do technically have two venomous snakes. A lot of times, people are surprised by that. They're both pretty uncommon to the area. They are timber rattlesnakes and northern copperheads. And they're pretty isolated to certain areas within New England. You'd have to really, really go looking to try to find one. And they're not really tops in terms of dangerous venom.
So you don't have to worry too much if you live here with me in New England.
ERIC: And we got a cool question about fear of animals on our social media. Do people in different parts of the world have the same fears, typically?
LIZ: A lot of the animal fears seem pretty similar across the board. I mean, I can't guarantee that people on the other side of the world are afraid of exactly the same things that people in the United States are. But when I was kind of looking up animal fears, it seems like spiders is definitely a huge one kind of across the board.
Snakes is another big one. Scorpions. I also found butterflies is a pretty common fear. Another common one, actually, dogs. That one really surprised me. Yeah, a lot of different animal fears.
ERIC: So I mentioned my own fear of spiders, but you work with so many different animals every day. Did you have to get over any fears before getting comfortable spending every day in the Live Animal Care Center?
LIZ: I wouldn't say I was afraid of anything, technically. I definitely became more comfortable with animals that I didn't have much experience with. I didn't really know much about snakes before I started working with them. They were kind of an unknown for me. I didn't really know how to approach them or how to avoid them in the wild.
So I definitely got a lot more comfortable with that.
In terms of insects and arachnids, I kind of always liked them. I was that dorky kid that was flipping rocks over and trying to pick stuff up. So I definitely didn't have to overcome that. But I do really respect the people that have kind of come to terms with their fears.
ERIC: Well, Liz, thanks so much for answering all our questions about spooky animals, particularly ones that we have at the museum.
LIZ: Thank you so much for having me. This was a lot of fun.
ERIC: You can get up close with many of the animals discussed today when visiting the Museum of Science by checking out our Yawkey Gallery on the Charles River, the Garden Walk and Insect Zoo, and of course, our Live Animal Care Center.
And when you're home, you can meet some of our resident scaly, furry, or feathered ambassadors by tuning in to our live animal live streams. Check the schedule at mos.org/mosathome.
If you've got questions about our live animals, send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll answer them on an upcoming episode.
Happy Halloween, and until next time, keep asking questions.
Theme song by Destin Heilman