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Expanding Our Umwelt: Understanding Animal Experiences

Science Friday

01-02-2024 • 17 mins

Take a quick moment to think about your surroundings. Tune into your senses, and contemplate what’s happening around you. What do you see, hear, and smell? Now take a moment to imagine: What if you were a bat? How would you experience your environment differently? Maybe you could sense a nearby spider through echolocation, or feel minute changes in air pressure and temperature to know where to fly next. This world of perception is unique to each organism. It’s what scientists call umwelt, from the German word meaning “environment” or “surroundings,” and it is the subject of this month’s SciFri Book Club pick.

Science writer, author, and birder Ed Yong returns to talk about how senses both familiar and foreign to us help animals experience their environment, and to tell us what he’s learned in the past year since his book, An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal The Hidden Realms Around Us (now available in paperback), was published.

The SciFri Book Club read An Immense World together this January, and readers joined Yong and guest host Arielle Duhaime-Ross via a live Zoom Call-in for a conversation on how writing about animals changed his experience in nature, how educators can help students become better connected to the Earth, and how readers are still connecting with his work on the umwelten of the animal kingdom.

Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

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