Destiny (10) asks “Did/are unicorns real?”

Destiny, thanks for this second question. Interestingly it has connections to your previous question about evolution.

I asked my friends about unicorns.

The fact that there are no fossils does not mean that unicorns never existed. If you look at how modern humans evolved from apes there are a lot of gaps in our understanding, which could be linked to fossils that have not yet been found.

Where fossils have been found we can get lots and lots of information from them especially from the age of the rock in which they are found. This is to do with something called radioactive decay. This allows the fossils to be placed fairly accurately on the ‘evolution table’.

I have two immediate thoughts about unicorns. Firstly they are completely made up and secondly they are a brief part of an evolutionary story that didn’t survive. For example an animal (horse, deer, goat or other animal) was born with one horn by some biological accident, it lived but it’s children were ‘normal’ so the trait ended.

I prefer the mythical, made up model. I would like your thoughts.

“Did humans evolve from monkeys?!?!” asks Destiny (10)

A great question Destiny and a difficult one to answer. You use the word ‘evolve’ in your question. I think we should spend the first part of a possible answer looking at that word – ‘evolve’. I thought I would ask my friends about this. Let’s see what they come up with ….

It was Darwin, a famous scientist, who proposed that all living things over time are slowly evolving. So another thing we have to think about is time. 

Life on our planet is thought to have been created four and a half billion years ago. That is 4,500,000,000 years ago. That give a lot of time for something to happen (evolve)  gradually.

Scientist think that ALL living things on our planet started 4.0 billion years ago with the formation of the first micro-organism that could reproduce itself. It was no bigger than a pinhead.

Below is a crude timeline which illustrates  how different life forms evolved (developed) over those millions and millions of years from that pinhead.

So Destiny, we have evolved from the primates but the primates evolved from other living things, and it started 4.0 billion years ago from that pinhead

I think the crucial factor in understanding this in the time span …which is unbelievable to us who live for such a short part of the story.

Unhappy about this, then please write a comment or ask another question.

(rewritten June 5th 2018 )

Chris (10) asks “How can you correctly determine the age of a tortoise or turtle?”

Chris thank you for your question. Some people suggest that it is the number of scutes (the bony rings that the tortoise has on its shell. However look at this baby tortoise breaking out of it’s shell.

Here he/she is and already there is more than one scute. Maybe we need to take a hint from a tree. How do you find the age of a tree. When you cut a tree down you can see inside of the bark a series of rings. (You can obviously do this without chopping the tree down).  Look at the image below.

The scutes of a tortoise also have rings. The image below is an ‘old’ tortoise.

This image is of a very young tortoise

Maybe these will give you a clue about the tortoises age. It is thought that this could be a rough age indicator.

Alternatively you could get a size chart, however, like the rings it is difficult to accurately determine the age of a tortoise. Maybe the only true way is to know when it was born.

Tiago (?) asked “Why are beach sands so different in colour and size?”

I asked my friends about this but they were more interested in investigating sandcastles than trying to answer the question.

It most certainly is something to do with the water. Water wet’s most things.There are some things that water doesn’t wet. Things which are wetted by water are called hydrophilic while those that are not wetted by water are called hydrophobic.

Sand is hydrophilic so water can act as a sort of glue between sand particles, holding them together. It’s not a very strong ‘glue’ but it is enough to stop the sand particles falling apart in the sand castle. For more on this look at this previous question. Some scientist have done some research and found that you need between 1% of the mixture to be water to keep the sand together. T

There is, however, the small problem of the type of sand. There are lots of different types of sand. Sand comes from broken rocks and animal skeletons. Different rocks and skeletons change the colour of the sand. The most common sand is from quartz rock (SiO2) 

Black sand comes from eroded volcanic material such as lava, basalt rocks, and other coloured rocks and minerals, white sand was once the skeleton of animals, shells or coral reefs.

Sand is formed by the action of the sea on the rocks, constantly moving the rocks and breaking them. It is thought that the flatter the beach the smaller the particles of sand are. For steep beaches the sand particles are larger. It is something to do with wave motion.

Charlie (10) asked “How many people live on earth”

Charlie ….. a simple answer …about 7.6 billion people.  That is a big big number 7, 600,000,000. A lot of people and it all started about 2.5 million (2,500,000) years ago.

The people then where very  olde worlde and didn’t look very much like us today. They were wanderers and spent a lot of time hunting and gathering food.

This species ( a word to describe a group of animals that are alike) was  the homo species and we are derived from the homo sapien group. There were then quite a lot of different homo people, however we were the only group to survive.

Below is a drawing of the what the homo family might have looked like. Can you find the homo sapien?

Will (8) asks “What makes seeds grow?”


Will, thank you for your question. Let’s start with some interesting questions. Answers to these might help in answering your question. Firstly is a fruit a seed?  If it is not a seed then what is it for? Does it help the seed grow? How will we know if the seed is growing? What does a seed need to grow? Does it need soil? Do seeds grow when it is cold? Do different seeds grow at different speeds? What do you think? Are there any more questions? Remember questions are what science is all about. By investigating questions you are building knowledge of the world around you.

So, let’s think about how we could investigate some of these questions. Shall we look at just one type of seed, or choose a variety of different seeds to investigate? Maybe looking at one type of seed would help us begin to answer some of the questions. We could then look at another type of seed and compare the results. Maybe one seed would grow faster than the other?

Now we have to think about the conditions for our growing experiment ….. soil/no soil, wet/dry, light/no light, hot/cold. Even for our selected seed this can be very complicated. Can you see why?

The investigation equipment could probably be obtained at home. A empty plastic bottle, with the top cut off, would be a good holder for the seed. Some cotton wool could act as soil. A cupboard and a refrigerator could also help you create the right environment.

Let me know how it went?

“Why do spiders make webs and what are they made of?” asks Emily (7)


Thanks Team and thank you Emily. My first thoughts are about catching a spider and trying to keep it at home or somewhere else or finding a spider in the wild so that you can see it making, or looking after its web. I am however reluctant to suggest both catching a spider or keeping it in an indoors.

In some countries spiders can be dangerous so please do not interfere with it until an adult has identified it and  said that it is OK to collect it, or observe it closely.  If, with an adults permission, you can keep a spider then a large plastic aquarium would probably provide a good home for it.

A spider’s web is made of a type of silk, so ask an adult if they could find some silk for you to investigate. Maybe you could use it to make a web and see how strong it is?

If you do keep a spider, at home, or in the classroom you will have to decide how you will feed it. That will be an interesting investigation.

Look at this video of a garden spider building its web. In the first part of the video everything is slowed down. In the second part of the video things are at the real speed of web building.

“I have a question about Hermann’s tortoises” says Christopher (10)

Many thanks team. The Western Hermann’s tortoise has evolved in the warmer parts of Europe while the Eastern Hermann’s tortoise has evolved in the colder parts of Europe where the ice age lasted longer. The Eastern tortoise is bigger than the Western one and it has been determined that it probably evolved faster than the Western tortoise. They can be distinguished by their carapace and plastron patterns. The images below are from Chris Leone
The Plastron

The Carapace

Maybe, Christopher you could tell me how long tortoises live? All you need to do is tell me in the Reply box below.?

Many thanks to
Chris Leone for his images
Changes to title, images  and added information on tortoises (21/11/17)

Ellie (12) asks “What are the damages of hurricanes?”

Great question Ellie. I was going to ask my team to tackle this, however for some reason the question was left unanswered so to apologize I think I will try to answer it myself.

How is a hurricane created?

Air is made up of tiny molecules. When molecules are heated, they move faster. As they move faster they become become spaced farther apart, which makes the air less dense – meaning that there are fewer molecules in a given volume. This also means that the air has a lower overall pressure – pressure is the push of the gas on it’s surroundings. In comparison, cold air is made of more tightly packed molecules, and so it is denser and has relatively higher pressure.

The warmer, lower pressure air begins to move upwards and therefore it creates space below it which is filled by the colder higher pressure air. The warmer air ‘floats’ on the colder air. It also carries with it water vapour – water that has evaporated and contains lots of energy. A wind begins to be created. The hotter the air near the surface of the sea, the lower the pressure and the faster the rise.

As this warm air gets higher it begins to cool and also the water vapour that would have risen with it begins to turn back to water. A cloud begins to form. The energy of the condensing water vapour is given to the cloud.

The cloud of colder air and water vapour begins to move in circles (because the Earth is rotating). It meets other storm clouds. The hurricane is forming and is being fed by the warm air close to the warm sea.

What are the damages of the hurricane?

The strong winds of a hurricane can push water up and onto land. This water can cause major flooding and damage to homes, cars, and boats. Heavy Rains – Hurricanes can cause heavy rains that flood places inland and away from the center of the storm.

This video will help explain the formation of the hurricane.




“How do people survive in the jungle?” asks Lachlan (8)

Thank you team, for your comments.

You are right Homo Sapiens survived because of their hunting and gathering skills.They were better at it than their fellow humans  Homo Neanderthal and the other human groups (Homo erectus, Homo ergaster, Homo rudolfensis …..)

Some clever people have found, that we still have hunting and gathering skills in our blood. So there you are, we will/might be able to cope in a jungle environment.

Revised 11/11/17 – added other homo species.