Terrestrials: The Guardian
(A jungle vibe begins to play: gently repeating percussion, crickets, the kind of echo you can hear at night.)
Lulu Miller: (Whispered.) 3, 2, 1!
Dr. Sammy Ramsey: Imagine that you've got these two big red eyes.
Lulu: And out of your back sprout — (Pop! Pop!)
Sammy: Two big wings. (A mechanical fluttering sound.)
Lulu: And out of your sides? (The metal fluttering again. Then: Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop!)
Sammy: Six legs.
Lulu: And your lips stretch forward into a straw. (Streeetch!)
Sammy: A pretty long one too. It's, like, longer than your whole head.
Lulu: It’s covered in spikes! (A buzz rings out.)
Lulu: And you use it to drink up …
Sammy: Well, a meal made out of another creature's blood. And that's where things get freaky.
You are a tsetse fly now.
(The music ends with four resonant hits to the drums. Then, a bug buzzes by, getting closer and closer until—bzz!—it sounds almost like it ran right into you.)
Lulu: So now is the part where I make you guess the words to our theme song.
(Sammy laughs just as the Terrestrials theme song launches in.)
Lulu: (Singing along.) “Terrestrials, terrestrials! We are not the worst—we are the:”
Lulu: Yeah, you got it! (Sammy bursts into a light laughter.)
Lulu: Terrestrials is a show where we uncover the strangeness right here on Earth—and sometimes break out into song.
Alan Goffinski: (Singing the tsetse-specific theme song, with Lulu occasionally joining in.) There’s theres so much to discover when you have the thirst!
So stretch out your proboscis—which is a word for the insect’s mouthparts!—
And take a slurp
(Another bug flies by, this one louder and maybe even grosser than the first one until it smacks into Alan, who says “Ow!”)
Lulu: Good voices not required. I am your host, Lulu Miller, joined, as always by my songbud:
Alan: (With a synthesized voice—one that sounds like a chorus of several voices.) Hey buds!
Alan: (Still synthesized.) What’s the buzz?
(A soft, quiet, but heavy background drone plays.)
Lulu: And today, as you can probably tell, things do get a little yuck as we look close at this horse-fly looking creature who can drink three times its weight—in YOUR blood. But, for the squeamish out there, I want to ask you to hold tight if you can, because what this story is really about is a magical technique for working through your fear, and the gifts—the beautiful, funny, and even life-saving surprises—that await when you do.
Sammy: (Laughingly.) Oh ho ho!
Lulu: All of which, I learned about [A pause.] from this guy.
Sammy: Yeah …
Lulu: Dr. Sammy Ramsey!
Sammy: I am an entomologist!
(A jazzy little beachside café guitar plays, light and airy and perfect for enjoying a cool glass of lemonade on a hot summer day.)
Lulu: That is fancy-speak for bug scientist, and to call him a bug lover doesn’t do justice to the amount of affection he has for these creatures. He’s got beetles hanging on his wall. He has been known to wear a giant millipede around his neck …
Sammy: Like a necklace! And he would just run around in circles around my neck very slowly.
Lulu: (Questioningly, like she doesn’t get the appeal.) He routinely sticks his hand into beehives …
(Over the music, the hum of a beehive.)
Sammy: They can get a little uh, rowdy because they've got a pretty important thing they need to protect. They need to protect their babies. They got to protect all this honey …
Lulu: And even that time …
Sammy: I forgot my smoker.
Lulu: (A quiet explanation.) A tool that blows smoke on the bees to distract them.
Sammy: And I thought, “Oh, these—this particular colony is just so cranky.”
(A little bee voice says a grumpy, “Buzz off!”)
Lulu: And cranky bees mean they might sting you, right?
Sammy: They might sting me!
(The same bee from before, menacing but also cute, threatens, “I’ll sting you!”)
Lulu: Instead of, you know, not sticking his hand into the beehive that day … ?
Sammy: I just started singing!
(The music hits a beat and stops.)
Lulu: ‘Kay. What song?
Sammy: I think it was a Beyonce song. [Singing. Really well.] “How you doing honey baby? I know I don’t ask for much but for a guy spending time alone …”
(The jazzy music bubbles back up.)
Lulu: And he says …
Sammy: (Singing with drama.) Hey, yeah!
Lulu: The bees?
Sammy: Really mellowed out!
Lulu: (Not bee-lieving.) No!
Sammy: (Excitedly.) Yeah, yeah, yeah! Not a single sting, no smoke, no nothing.
Lulu: (In a lawyer voice, quick and serious.) Listeners, do not try the Bee-yoncé technique at home!
(Once again, the bubbly jazzy music pops, and then goes quiet.)
Sammy: It was pretty cool!
Lulu: And Sammy has found a way to make this love his day job. He works in a special bug unit of the U.S. government.
Lulu: Where he constantly handling bugs and photographing bugs.
Lulu: Have you ever eaten a bug?
Sammy: Oh yeah. Yeah, definitely. I have had silkworm caterpillars, dried and fried.
Lulu: (Groaning in disgust.) Why!? Oh, okay. Okay. I'm sorry. I'm so … I’m—I’m—[Sighing.] I’m trying to expand my mind.
Sammy: Me 15 years ago would have been just as judgmental of the whole thing—[Lulu laughs.]—but I've learned that so many cultures around the rest of the world do consume bugs. They're a great source of nutrition and they contribute a lot less to climate change than the organisms that we factory-farm all the time to feed people. So … just sayin’!
(Plucky string music bounces up and down.)
Lulu: Uh, please continue.
Sammy: I’ve had cookies with crickets in them
Sammy: Banana-nut muffins where the nuts were actually mealworms.
Sammy: I had larvae of red ants!
Sammy: They have, like, this citrusy taste. [Fading under.] Uh, probably the formic acid in them …
Lulu: And while I would love to keep listening to Sammy talk—
Sammy: I’ve had cicadas as well.
Lulu: —In extensive culinary detail—
Sammy: They've got sort of like a shrimpy, nutty thing going on.
Lulu: —About all the bugs that we can eat …
Sammy: Oh, I’ve had giant waterbugs.
Lulu: … Sammy has come here to tell us about this bug that eats us!
(A bug buzzes and buzzes, gets caught, and is gone—and so is the music.)
Sammy: The tsetse fly, or “set-see flies” as some say. I don't think there's actually a right way to pronounce it. (Both chuckle lightly.)
Lulu: So, our story about the tsetse fly—this creature that today is only found in certain forested, swampy parts of Africa—begins over 34 million years ago, when an ancient fly crawled its way out of the dirt, brushed itself off and—
(An electronic buzzing plays alongside actual buzzing for just a moment.)
Lulu: —Took off. Tummy rumbling. Looking for food.
Sammy: We're not sure what the range of snacks was for the original tsetse fly.
Lulu: Sammy explains that, at first, the tsetse fly likely used its handy-dandy straw mouth to suck up nectar from flowers or juice from fruit. But, at a certain point, it figured out it could get way more nutrients, if it used that straw to suck blood from other creatures. Making tsetses—and other blood-feeding flies like it …
(Twangy country-styled music plays before distant horns enter in, almost like they are playing out of an old radio in a car on the other side of a parking lot.)
Lulu: And particularly skilled parasites.
Sammy: They had these really sharp straw mouthparts that are actually made up of different [A chainsaw buzzes as Sammy continues to talk.] The needle-like parts they're able to use to ratchet through the skin, even of things like crocodiles, which have really, really tough skin.
Lulu: So throughout history these hungry flies sawed through the thick scales of crocs—grr!—and tortoises—rrr!—until eventually much easier meals started showing up.
(The music ends.)
Dr. Paul Mireji: And the bite from this tsetse fly is excruciatingly painful.
Lulu: This is Dr. Paul Mireji, a scientist who studies tsetse flies—and a human who grew up alongside them in Western Kenya.
Paul: What they have in their mouth is like, uh—like a saw.
(A light scratchy-scratch.)
Paul: So they’re—they're pool feeders.
Lulu: Wait, sorry. They're what—they’re what-feeders?
Paul: Pool feeders.
Lulu: (Shocked.) Pool feeders!? Wait. Okay. So you're saying instead of a—kind of like a needle that goes in, they have a saw that just scrapes it open and makes like a giant pool of blood that they just slurp up?
(The twangy parasite music reprises. It’s back!)
Lulu: And, unlike a mosquito that you can, you know. defend yourself against with a nice little—
Sammy: So tsetse flies are pretty flat, and you pressing down on it is not gonna make it much flatter.
Lulu: And as that hard-to-squash little body is filling up with three times its own body weight in your blood ...
(That cute, tiny, menacing voice from before says, “Glug, glug, glug.”)
Lulu: … To be light enough to fly away …
Sammy: The tsetse fly has to void some of its, um, digestive …
Lulu: (Starting to understand. It’s gross.) Uh …
Sammy: … System …
Lulu: And when you are using that lovely word, “void,” [Sammy laughs.] what do you mean?
Sammy: It poops on ya. [Lulu groans.] Yeah.
Lulu: But it’s shortly before that moment that the tsetse fly turns from gnarly to deadly. Because, as it bites thru your skin, it can pass along—
Sammy: —Parasites from the tsetse fly into the body of the host.
Lulu: Wait, so there can be parasites inside parasites?
(Soft, heavenly music plays. It sounds like a long empty hallway filled with just a little bit of water at the bottom. It would probably echo if you spoke.)
Sammy: Oh, yeah! And sometimes there are parasites that live in parasites that live in parasites that live in parasites.
Lulu: And the stowaway parasites inside the tsetse fly are really bad news, because they carry a disease known as …
Sammy: Sleeping sickness.
(The music gets darker. A solemn percussive melody begins to play.)
Sammy: It’s pretty debilitating and some people die from it.
Paul: It’s very terrifying, because they are—they are everywhere. They are surrounding.
Lulu: Paul explains that he spent a lot of his childhood trying to hide from the tsetse fly.
Paul: Just to avoid being bitten.
Lulu: So he’d never go down to the river in the morning, because that’s when the flies tended to be more active.
Paul: So that kept us away from the river in the morning.
Lulu: And if a wave of flies rolled in when he was driving in the car with his family, he’d have to …
(A needly little sound spirals down into a cascading crystal-clear synthesizer.)
Paul: … Close the windows. And so you are inside the car, it’s extremely hot, you can’t open the windows because the swarms of tsetse flies will get in the car.
Lulu: And beyond that, there were entire places around him—beautiful hilltops or fields of orange flowers—where Paul and his friends were forbidden from going.
Paul: Because, whenever you go there, you come back dozing off, sick.
Paul: Bad omen: That was how we described those areas.
Lulu: “Bad omen,” like bad luck?
Paul: Yeah. Bad omen.
(With a western-movie-style whistle, the music quiets.)
Lulu: Now, because of how tsetse flies appeared to us, they have not been historically well-loved. In fact, back in the 1800s, when scientists went around ranking all creatures on a scale of “Goodness,” they placed tsetse flies and other parasites way down at the bottom.
(Bumpy, bouncy string music plays for a minute before percussion enters in.
Lulu: They reasoned that, because of the way these creatures behaved, biting into our skin, lazily freeloading off our blood, and—people assumed for a long time—neglecting their babies by just laying a bunch of eggs and flying off … All of this made the creatures objectively, scientifically, bad news for the planet.
(With a xylophone flourish, the curious music plays out.)
Lulu: For a long time, this was how Paul—
Lulu: —And even Sammy—
Sammy: Oh yeah.
Lulu: —Saw tsetse flies—
Lulu: —And pretty much all bugs
Sammy: Uh, let me tell you, when I say that I was afraid of bugs, it's truly an understatement.
Lulu: Wait, really?
Sammy: I was absolutely terrified. I thought the insects were out for my ill. I thought that they were intentionally trying to hurt me. [Buzzing.] I thought bees were looking for a person to sting. [A mosquito buzzes, lightly.] I thought that mosquitoes were intentionally trying to make me itchy. [Crickets play up.]Uh, I thought that crickets were trying to keep me up at night with all of that loud racket that they're making.
Lulu: He didn't want to go outside for recess, because they’re might be bugs out there. And when his sister realized he was scared of bugs, she would sometimes grab beetles or ants.
Sammy: (In a high-pitched, mock-sister voice.) “Hey, Sammy, there's a bug on you!”
Lulu: And throw them at him.
Sammy: Uh. So I—I lost my mind in panic. Rather than brushing the insect off, I would just run around in circles.
Lulu: Screaming, [“Ahh!”] and then he’d feel embarrassed for being so scared.
Sammy: Oh man.
Lulu: And his fears of bugs began crawling their way into his dreams.
(Mysterious, dark music begins. A flute plays a mystical melody for a moment, whisking us away to a world of dreams.)
Sammy: I was always the smallest person in class, and I used to dream that the bugs were strong enough to carry me away. So, like, just a swarm of ants would come to my bed at night and carry me out of my house, down into their ant hill where they would, uh, divide me up and consume me.
Sammy: It's a scary, scary little world to live in.
Lulu: Maybe it would have gone that way forever had his mom not pulled him inside one day and said, “Sammy, you gotta stop running.”
Sammy: She said, “Sammy, people fear what they don't understand. If you understood them, then you wouldn't fear them.”
Lulu: So, cautiously, Sammy headed toward the “Entomology” section of the library, and began taking out books on ants and crickets and mosquitoes and termites.
(Looping marimba notes move back and forth, each individual note and phrase swaying in time to the rhythm of something bigger, something greater.)
Sammy: I kept seeing all of these cool pictures really close-up of these creatures that had never bothered to really, really look at, and seeing all these cool—
Sammy: —Extra appendages and things that they had and all this interesting stuff that they could do.
Lulu: Like building cities and regrowing limbs and surviving the most extreme conditions. These weren’t monsters. They're inventors and musicians and protectors, looking for food and family.
Sammy: They also became something I identified with. I was always the smallest kid in class. I was the shortest, I was the skinniest. But to find that these creatures—these really, really, really tiny organisms—they can build structures that are visible from space. [Laughs in wonder.] They can do awesome stuff at an incredibly small size. And that was inspiring to me.
(An expansion: The world—and the music—opens up before it fades into the sky.)
Lulu: And, by the time he hit high school, he had become so unafraid of bugs that he began wearing his giant, 14-inch millipede—
Sammy: (Excitedly.) Leroy, my millipede!
(For a moment, the jazzy cafe music returns.)
Lulu: —Around his neck.
Lulu: Was it kinda like a—a showing off to your classmates?
Sammy: Uh huh. Yeah, we call it a flex.
(And then, just as quickly, the music is gone again.)
Paul: (Shaking.) You can see now the tsetse flies!
Lulu: Speaking of flexes.
Lulu: Oh my gosh. Wait, are those actual tsetse flies right there?
Paul: Yes. Yes, and we have them here, as you can see.
Lulu: In the middle of our interview, Paul over in Kenya pulls out a tambourine-looking thing, that was filled with living tsetse flies.
Lulu: You know, it looks like you have almost 20 or so of them. And they're in this cage flying around.
Paul: Yeah. (Laughs.)
Lulu: Does that make you nervous to have them so close to you? Like, they’re—they’re—they … Right now, they look like they're swarming. They look like they're trying to get out of that little cage. Like, I feel nervous. Do you feel nervous?
(Gentle, lush music unfolds for a breath. Then, plucky strings come back.)
Lulu: And the reason why not is that Paul used the same magical trick as Sammy. At a certain point he began looking closer at the thing he feared. He became a scientist, specializing in the tsetse fly—as he puts it, because he wanted to gain control over the bug.
Paul: Because, from the time I was a small boy, the bugs were controlling me. They were deciding when I should go to the river. They were deciding when I could go to the forest, they were deciding when I could play out with my friends. And now I decided that the best thing for me was go back and control the bugs. Make the bugs play by my rules.
Lulu: How one man tries to make millions of bugs play by his rules —
after this short break.
(The music ends with the break.)
(As we come back from the break, more buzzing!)
Lulu: Okay, we are back! Pfff! [As though swatting away bugs herself.] With a whole lot of tsetse flies and a man named Paul who has just set out to …
Paul: (In a distorted, low voice, like Darth Vader.) Control the bugs.
Lulu: So the way that people usually control fly populations—like, mosquitos, say—is that they …
Um, well, they kill their babies.
They target the places where they are likely to lay their eggs—stagnant water or dense brush—and then they’ll clear that stuff away [Wff! It’s gone!] and voila! No more adults.
(A refreshing silence.)
Lulu: But Paul learned that, for some frustrating reason, this technique [Wff! Again.] would not work with tsetse flies! So he began looking closer at the creature—
(The buzzing restarts, but this time it’s joined by light piano notes, gently wavering up and then back down again, over and over.)
Lulu: —Through microscopes and in obscure studies in books, and that’s when he learned this totally shocking thing which completely stunned Sammy, too.
(The buzzing cuts out from the music.)
Sammy: With tsetse flies, the weird thing about it is their egg hatches inside of their body. And they actually—
Lulu: Wait. What do you mean? I thought insects laid thousands of eggs out in the world and that’s just—that’s just how insects do it.
Sammy: That’s actually not how the tsetse fly does it.
Lulu: Wait! Meaning, they don’t lay eggs, so they … They don’t get pregnant, do they?
Sammy: Yeah, yeah, yeah! They've got this really thin back-end: The abdomen. That’s the place where the baby would normally be. But after they start developing this child, it swells to ridiculous size—multiple times the size of what it was before.
Lulu: Also, are you saying that the baby bump is on the booty?
(An abrupt stop to the music.)
Sammy: Yeah. The baby bump is on the … It’s—it’s a booty baby bump. [JOKE SFX]
(An Alan song! A funky drumline plays over a spoken-word song, light vocals over a low, percussive voice, both saying the same words:
“It’s a booty baby bump!
It’s a booty baby bump!
Is that junk in your trunk?
No, it’s a little tsetse punk!”)
Lulu: But the strangeness does not stop there, because, as scientists looked closer, they realized that those tsetse moms ...
Sammy: They actually will keep their baby fed on milk [Lulu gasps lightly.] that they produce inside of their body and feed to their offspring, which is crazy!
Lulu: Wait, but, okay … What do you mean, “milk”? Like, not … milk? [Sammy laughs.] Like, we're talking about a bug. Bugs don't have milk. Do they?
Sammy: Oh, bugs do have milk! [Taking on a fake fancy voice.] And I take exception with your skepticism!
Lulu: With my tone here? [Both laugh.] I’m being judgy again? No, but, like, okay. Aren’t mammals—which humans are and, you know, cuddly little dogs and elephants—like, aren't we, the only things that do milk? Isn’t that what makes us special?
Sammy: So we are not the only things that do milk.
Lulu: And we nurse–and it's like that science-y thing? We nurse our babies. We tend to them.
Sammy: We nurse them, yeah.
Lulu: We don't just lay eggs and leave them. Like, we’re—I feel like that's what makes us think we're in the caring class of animal.
Sammy: We are in the caring class, but we're not the only game in town.
(Inspiring, sustained piano music plays over long, stretched-out strings.)
Lulu: Sammy explains that if you wanna rank animals by how well they care for their babies, tsetse flies arguably score even higher than us because they incubate those babies in their bellies for proportionally longer to their lives than we do.
Sammy: Well, the tsetse flies keep that child inside of them [Lulu laughs.] until it's pretty much the day before it’s an adult.
Lulu: That’s so weird, to picture being inside the womb until you’re, like, in high school.
Sammy: Like, you’re basically born with a briefcase and a car. [Both laughing at the idea.] It’s time for you to get a job.
Lulu: And because they come into the world so fully developed, some scientists even guess that the survival rate of tsetse babies is better than ours
Sammy: Oh yeah, for sure!
Lulu: That is—that’s humbling. (Laughs gently.)
Lulu: And, to further shake our sense of specialness, Sammy pointed out that tsetse flies aren't even that much of an outlier. They aren’t even the only bugs that make milk.
Sammy: There's even roach milk.
(Wait, what? The music ends, as if in reaction to roach milk.)
Lulu: Blegh! Cockroaches?
Sammy: Oh yeah! Yeah yeah yeah. Like—like, cockroaches, cockroaches.
Sammy: It is some of the most nutritious milk that we know of.
Lulu: Sammy told me there are even labs looking into how to bottle the stuff.
Lulu: (Over a big ripping sound.) Okay, I am opening this package from Omaha, Nebraska.
Lulu: Shortly after our interview, we talked our way into getting one of these labs to send us some cockroach milk for Sammy and me to taste.
Lulu: Oh my god, there are two little vials here. [Laughing at herself, like she’s losing it for doing this.] It looks kinda maple syrup-y, but white, with, like, darker grains. Am I really gonna do this?
Lulu: Do you think this is our future? Like, are we gonna have roach milk in the supermarket alongside goat milk and rice milk and … ?
Sammy: Oh, I hope so. I hope so. And that might sound like a really weird thing for a human being to say.
(Clip-clopping exploratory music enters in.)
Lulu: But, Sammy reasons, with so many cockroaches scurrying around all over the planet—[The skittering sounds of so many cockroaches.]—harvesting their milk just might be better for the environment than milk from big—[Moo!]—gassy cows—[Moo number two!]—[Lulu’s voice speeds up, like a lawyer’s disclaimer.] who are constantly belching out tons of methane gas which is a significant contributor to climate change … (The cows burp, changing the climate right then and there.)
(The music plays out.)
Lulu: I can’t believe I’m about to try roach milk … [Sammy laughs.] Alright. No, but seriously, any little, like—can you give me a jingle to get me into the zone here?
[A harp plays a flourish. Then, singing, with keyboard accompaniment.] You’ve tried the cow, you’ve tried the goat! [A goat bleats.] So how ‘bout now, you milk a roach? [One more harp strum ends the jingle. Both laugh.]
How ‘bout that?
Lulu: Okay! Let’s just do it! Bottoms up!
(They both take a big sip.)
Lulu: I’m, like, shaking.
Sammy: I kinda like that!
Lulu: There’s, like, a cucumber-y …
Sammy: Surprisingly salty.
Lulu: Acrid … [Sammy laughs.] Ruined dreams of sunshine? (Sammy breaks into deeper laughter.)
Lulu: Woo! Okay! So, speculative dairy scenarios aside. Back to Paul, with the real problem of real people being hurt by real tsetse flies—right now.
Lulu: Once Paul learned that there were no tsetse fly eggs out there in the world for him to ambush, he realized that, to control the tsetse fly population, he was going to have to find a way to make the adults …
(Electric guitar chords bump on up. It’s tsetse fly time!)
Lulu: Come to him.
Lulu: So he learned their favorite color.
Paul: Tsetse flies like people who dress in blue and black. Blue, like in jeans.
Lulu: Wait, what? They like the color blue?
Paul: Yes. Blue and black.
Lulu: Its favorite animal …
Paul: The buffalo.
(A buffalo sound.)
Lulu: (Whispering, an aside.) Nothin’ like a big, wet, stinky water buffalo.
Lulu: Its favorite place?
Paul: The river.
(Water rushes over a cool river.)
Lulu: And then Paul deviously combined all three of these things—the river, the buffalo, and the colors black and blue—into the perfect …
Lulu: (Echoing.) Trap.
Lulu: He hung a big black cloth near the blue river and he smothered the cloth in a liquid that smelled like …
(The music stops for a beat.)
Paul: The urine of the buffalo.
(One last flourish of the music.)
Lulu: He added a little poison …
Lulu: And then he waited.
Paul: A little bit far away with the binoculars.
Lulu: Until …
Lulu: I've never heard of someone looking at insects with binoculars. Can you actually see flies with binoculars?
Paul: Yes, you can see from a distance …
Lulu: And through his binoculars, he watched as one tsetse fly landed on the cloth,
(One string note of alarm, then a wiggly noise.)
Lulu: Dipped its little straw in the poison … [Slurp!] Began to fly away …
Paul: And then collapse and fall down.
(Twang! The fly falls down.)
Lulu: Where it lay on the forest floor until, eventually …
Paul: It is taken away by ants.
(Sammy’s ant nightmare song returns.)
Lulu: Wow. I'm picturing you watching through your binoculars as the ants come and eat it. Like, carry it off and eat it!
Paul: Yeah. (Chuckles lightly.)
(The music ends.)
Lulu: Do you feel victorious? Do you feel, like, “Ha ha ha!” [Chuckles.] Like, “I—I got you!”?
Paul: A very big sense of relief. Because from every tsetse fly that is eaten away is one bite less—guaranteed one bite less—for me and for everyone around me.
(Spacey music plays up, peaceful and calm, like a success story playing out the credits.)
Lulu: These days, sleeping sickness is very well-controlled in Kenya. Thanks to new medicines. And, thanks to Paul’s work, bites themselves have even gone down.
Lulu: If you could just snap your fingers and make all the tsetse flies go away on planet Earth, would you do it?
Paul: No, I wouldn’t. Because it would upset … (Fades under and out.)
Lulu: Paul explains that, when he looks at the creature biting his skin—sure, he sees a gnarly little bugger that he is literally in the business of trying to kill—but when he zooms out, when he looks at a map of the national parks in Africa, he can’t help but to wonder if many of those green spots on the map were able to stay protected because of the tsetse fly, or, you know, our human fear of it.
Paul: Bad omen. We described as a bad omen.
Lulu: Which kept not just Paul and his neighbors away from certain mountains and parts of the savannah, but outsiders, like colonists and loggers and developers who might otherwise have long ago destroyed the nature in those parks. Which is why, these days, in Paul’s community …
Paul: Tsetse fly is considered the guardian of the savannah.
Lulu: The—the guardian?
(The music rings up and shimmers—magic.)
Lulu: The closer scientists like Paul and Sammy look at the tsetse fly, the more they realize how much they had been missing by looking away.
Sammy: Oh yeah!
Lulu: For instance, Sammy got all dazzled about how the tsetse fly filters out toxins from our blood because he figured, if we could learn how they do it, it could help us decontaminate water supplies—or who knows!
Sammy: Like, these creatures have had to solve some really complicated situations and we have some big, scary, hairy problems to solve ourselves. Things like world hunger and global warming are going to require us to really, really think. And I think a lot of these answers are going to come from creatures that have used their creativity to solve all kinds of problems themselves.
(The music fades out.)
Sammy: Unfortunately, those may be creatures that can test the boundaries of our ability to wonder, but I hope that we'll push those boundaries more and keep the wonder going.
(A new Alan song!)
Lulu: Uh oh! Someone’s got a triangle!
(A funky triangle beat, played with rhythmic clapping, signals the start of the song.)
Alan: (Singing with a chorus of voices.) If you’re feeling stale or stuck,
scared, bored or out of luck,
Try a new point of view. To get yourself unstuck
You gotta yum your yuck! [A whip cracks.]
(A bouncy synthesizer gives the song a pop-music texture.)
Lulu: (Singing.) Help me! I don’t know what I’m gonna find.
I try to have an open mind
But you are crunching on something disgusting! [Spoken.] Yuck!
Alan: (Singing with autotune.) I just want to say it’s okay. Yeah, it’s fine
to change your mind anytime and redefine what you like!
I know that you’re brave, yeah!
And I know that you can change, yeah!
But don’t bug me with your yuck! [The new voice says, “Hey!”]
You better suck it up like a tsetse fly!
(A brief instrumental moment.)
Alan: Hey Dr. Sammy!
Alan: You got anything you wanna put on this track?
Sammy: Oh, I got you! I didn’t choose the bug life. The bug life chose me!
Alan: (Laughing.) Alright, boss. What’s on the menu?
Sammy: Here we go!
[Singing.] I’ve had silkworm caterpillars dried and fried.
A little bit of sugar makes the flavor come alive.
Banana nut muffins with worms inside.
The crunchier the better, now open wide!
The thing about bugs is they’re just another critter.
They all evolved because they were fitter.
[Harmonizing with Alan.] Better, smarter, stronger, quicker
So we can get a lot from them besides dinner.
Alan: If you’re feeling stale or stuck,
scared, bored, or out of luck,
Try a new point of view to get yourself unstuck
You gotta yum your yuck!
Spread your gross on jam like toast
And yum the thing that makes you yuck the most.
Take a whiff of something new
Even if it smells like—pretty roses! [Another whip!]
Watch out! We got an appetite
To take a bite
For giving something new a try.
Lulu: (Singing.) Hurry up before I change my mind!
Alan: 3, 2, 1.
Lulu: Gulp! (One more whip crack!)
Alan: If you’re feeling stale or stuck,
Scared, bored, and out of luck
Try a new point of view!
To get yourself unstuck,
You gotta yum your yuck!
(And with that, the song is over!)
Lulu: The one and only Alan Goffinski!
(A drumroll slides into credits music.)
Lulu: Terrestrials was created by me, Lulu Miller, with WNYC Studios. It is produced by the Tsetse-reffic Ana González and Alan Goffinski (plus, ya know, me). With help from Suzie Lechtenberg, Sarah Sandbach, Natalia Ramirez, Joe Plourde, Natalie Meade, and Sarita Bhatt. Sound design and additional editorial guidance by Mira Burt-Wintonick. Zoop!
Terrestrials is supported in part by Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation.
Our advisors are Theanne Griffith, Dominique Shabazz, Liza Steinberg-Demby, Tara Welty, and Aliyah Elijah.
Special thanks to Dr. Geoffrey Attardo and Paul Ayayee and his lab at the University of Nebraska for sending us cockroach milk … A sentence I thought I would never [A breath.] udder. [Chuckling at her own joke.] Udder! Eh? Those are Ds, not Ts. You get it if you get it!
And … That’s it! You should stop listening. Who listens to credits? Honestly, there’s life to live!
(Interrupting Lulu come the Badgers! They excuse themselves—four times—and here we go! It’s the Badgers!)
(Groovy elevator music with a ‘70s vibe begins to play.)
Lulu: Listeners, with badgering questions for the expert.
Lulu: You ready?
Teo: Hi, my name is Teo and I’m twelve. [Giggles.] Is there anything that makes a mosquito bite you instead of somebody else?
Sammy: So mosquitoes really like people who are sweating and people who are exhaling a lot. So if you happen to be doing a lot of exercising outdoors, you will attract more mosquitoes.
Sammy: There's been some research around this and bananas actually do have some, uh, components in them that seem to, in some people, make them more attractive [Lulu gasps.] to mosquitoes.
Lulu: That is bananas.
Jad: Hi! My name is Jad and here’s my question: If a mosquito is biting your arm and you flex your arm muscles right at the moment that its little proboscis is going into your arm and it’s drawing out the blood—if you flew your arm right at that moment, will it explode or is that just an urban myth?
Sammy: Is that Jad Abumrad?
Sammy: (Laughingly.) Oh, that makes me very happy. Mosquitoes have been around for a long time. Evolutionarily, they've got all kinds of pumps and mechanisms in place to prevent the backflow system that would allow for an influx of blood to make them blow up.
Lulu: Myth—unlike the mosquito—busted. (Explosion noise!)
Jude: Hi my name is Jude (Lulu whispers to Jude, “And how old are you?”). Three. Do ants make sounds?
Sammy: Hey Jude! Ants do make sounds. Um, some of the most famous ants that make sounds are the queens. So queen ants have a special sound that only they make in the colony …
(A scritchy-scratchy sound plays: It’s the queen!)
(At the same time, the music changes to become big and spaced-out.)
Sammy: The queen’s saying, [In a royal voice.] “I’m your queen. Give me your food.”
But there are some butterflies that have gotten into ant colonies and have figured out how to hijack that system. They lay an egg, their baby hatches from the egg, and the caterpillar walks around the colony, making the same sound as the queen!
(The same sound echoes, just a little lower than the queen’s sound!)
Sammy: (Making another silly, fancy voice.) “I am your queen! Feed me!” And the ants feed them and raise them like they're queens.
Lulu: Ohh! Sneaky!
Lulu: Alright. I’m gonna leave it there with the parasitic butterfly waiting in the … [Making a joke.] wings.
(One more queen ant sound for good measure. It almost sounds like laughter.)
Lulu: You know, I—I wasn’t sure about parasites … But they are growing on me. [A goofy giggle.] Okay, you’re free. No more parasite puns. Go enjoy your life! If you’d like to badger our next expert or check out cool drawing prompts, check out our website, at terrestrialspodcast.org! All kinds of neat stuff there.
Thanks for listening! See ya in a couple spins of this lumpy ol’ planet of ours.
(Lulu whistles, then whispers.) Bye!
(The music plays up for a moment, a dream of clouds in space, then drifts away.)