Exercise 1 – Part 1

A. Listen to Part 1 of the interview. What is an arthropod, and why does he think they are so important?

B. Now listen again. Answer the questions.

1   What examples does George McGavin give of animals with a spine, and why does he think they are less important than arthropods?

2   When did he first decide to focus on arthropods? What insect caught his attention?

3   What usually influences how new species are named? How many does he have named after him?

4   What currently makes him sad about arthropods?



Arthropods are animals with lots of hinged legs (legs with joints in them) and hard outsides, e.g., crustacea, spiders, and insects.

They are important because they make up three quarters of all animals in the world. / They are the biggest animal group in the world.


1   Examples of animals with a spine: bats, cats, rats, mammals, amphibians, fish, birds. He thinks they are less important because they make up only 2.9% of all species.

2   When he was on a field trip in his first year at university. Ants caught his attention.

3   Normally new species are named after the country they are found in or how they look. He has five named after him.

4   Their habitat is being destroyed and they are disappearing very quickly and we may never even discover some of them.


I = Interviewer, G = George McGavin

Interview with an entomologist – Part 1

 Professor McGavin, you’re an expert in arthropods. Could you start by telling us what arthropods are?

G   Well, arthropods are, are this really enormous group of animals; I mean, they’re, they’re much bigger than any other animal group on Earth. They comprise about, you know, three quarters of, of all animals and they’re the, they’re the animals that have lots of hinged legs: so crustacea, spiders, insects, that sort of thing. Hard outsides, lots of hinged legs.

 And what is it about them that interests you?

G   Arthropods have got to interest everybody because they are, to all intents and purposes, the, the major animal group on Earth. So if you call yourself a zoologist and you don’t know anything about arthropods, you really don’t know anything about anything, because they are the majority! Everybody gets very excited about, uh, backboned animals, things with a spine: uh, bats, cats, rats, mammals, amphibians, fish, birds, they only comprise 2.9% of all species, whereas arthropods comprise about 66% of all species. So, you know, in terms of of species, they are immensely important. In terms of what they do, they are immensely important.

 Were you interested in them right from the start, from when you were a child?

G   When I was very young, I, I knew that the natural world was the most interesting thing around. So I wanted to be outside, and you don’t have to be outside very long before you find, you know, insects and spiders and things, you know, doing interesting things. But I was interested more generally as a kid, and it was only when I got to Edinburgh for my first degree that I realized that actually insects were the major player in any habitat. And we were on a field trip to the west coast of Scotland, when all my classmates were looking for badgers and owls and eagles, and failing to find them, but at our feet were hundreds of thousands of ants doing very interesting things, and I thought, “Well, the–surely this is easier to work on?”

I   I understand that there are several species that are named after you. Could you tell us a bit about them?

G   One of the great things about being in a field for long enough is that people will eventually describe a new species and think, “Oh, what on earth am I going to call this?” you know, and normally they’re named after the country or how they look or something like that. But five people around the world have named, uh, an insect in my honor, and a spider, I think, so I have a plant hopper in Africa, I’ve got a shield bug from Borneo, uh, I think an ant from Africa as well, a cockroach from south-east Asia, which is, is great, and they have my name, uh, attached to them! What’s making me slightly depressed is the fact that, uh, these things may not survive. Uh, even though they’ve been named in my, my honor, we’re losing species at a quite alarming rate now, because of habitat loss. And the sad truth is that although we are pretty sure there are eight million species of arthropods out there unknown, our chances of ever finding them and naming them are probably pretty slim, because they will come and they will go without us ever knowing they were there.

Part 2

A. Listen to Part 2. How sympathetic is George McGavin to people who have phobias of insects? Has he ever been afraid of a living creature?

B. Listen again. Mark the sentences T (true) or F (false). Correct the false sentences.

1   People say they have a phobia of insects because of the way insects look and move.

2   George McGavin thinks children develop phobias as a result of adults’ fears.

3   He thinks a fear of spiders is never justifiable.

4   In the UK there are spiders whose bite can make you seriously sick.

5   He thinks curing people of phobias always takes a long time.

6   His first reaction when he saw the snake in the Amazon was excitement.

7   The snake didn’t like the clothes McGavin was wearing.

8   When he realized how dangerous the snake was, he dropped it and ran away.



He isn’t particularly sympathetic.

Yes, once. He was afraid of a fer-de-lance snake in the Amazon.




 F (He thinks it is justifiable for people who live in countries with dangerous spiders.)

 F (“In the UK, however, there are no spiders which can injure you at all.”)

 F (He cured one girl of her phobia in a day.)


 F (The snake didn’t like the head torch.)

 F (He froze and then put the leaf back on the snake.)


Interview with an entomologist – Part 2

I   Quite a lot of people have phobias of insects and spiders. Why do you think that is?

G   I sometimes wonder why people have a phobia. I mean, they, they say it’s because they’re unpredictable, they, they move in a strange way, they’ve got lots of legs, well, you know, I don’t know. It, it– I think it’s passed on. I think if you’re a kid growing up, you have a fascination with the thing arou– all the animals around you, and I think adults sometimes pass their fears on by, by going, “Oh, what’s that? Oh, it’s a spider,” you know. In some parts of the world it, it’s perfectly justifiable to, to have a fear of spiders, because there are many places in the world where, you know, spiders can injure you severely. In the UK, however, there are no spiders which can injure you at all. You might get a slight irritation or, you know, a swelling, but, but still there are something like seven million people in the United Kingdom who are terrified of spiders, and, and moths.

 Do you think it’s possible for them to be cured of their phobia?

G   It is possible to to train people out of fears, uh, by, by simply exposing them to something, you know, on a regular basis, and perhaps if they have a spider phobia, you start with a very small spider and you say, well “Have it on your hand, examine it, you know, it’s fine.” And I’ve, I’ve actually cured a girl who had a spider phobia in a, in a day and by the end of the day she was able to hold a tarantula. Um, and I, I think it’s– you know, if people look at the natural world, if they look at insects or spiders, and they understand them, then you begin to, to really enjoy them. But, but if you just cut yourself off, which is what most people do, they say, you know, “I’m going to have an insect-free zone around me,” it, it’s not possible.

I   I’m assuming you’re not afraid of any insects or spiders, but have you ever been in a situation where you were genuinely frightened of an animal?

G   We were filming in the Amazon after dark, because it was a program about animals after dark, and I saw a, a head of a snake poking out from under a leaf, and of course I thought, well “This is great, you know, quick, the camera! Come on, let’s get down and have a look at this thing.” You know, I’m not stupid, so I, I got a stick and I, I lifted this leaf up gingerly, and of course it was a fer-de-lance, which is one of the most dangerous snakes in the whole of South America, responsible for more human deaths than probably any other snake. And as I lifted it up it sort of looked at me, you know, and they don’t like head torches, so I’m wearing a head torch shining right in its face! It does this, you know! And then I realize that it’s four feet long, it’s twice as long as my stick, which means that it could get me very easily indeed. So I, I just sort of froze, I could feel my heart pounding, and I just gent– gingerly put the leaf down and said, “We’ll just leave this one I think!” That could have been very nasty.

Part 3

A. Now listen to Part 3. Do students in your country suffer from similar stress?

 killing insects at work

 killing insects at home

 “optimal foraging theory”

 harvesting insects in cold and hot countries

 a mealworm in a snack

 cooking crickets for children in Oxford

 one boy’s mother

B. Listen again. Can you add any more details?



1   He has killed millions.

2   He doesn’t do it unless they are fleas.

3   It is an ecological theory.

4   We don’t do it in cold countries. In hot countries it makes sense.

5   He says it’s delicious.

6   He did it at the end of a lecture.

7   One boy’s mother came to talk to him after her child had eaten crickets.


1   He has killed millions because he has to so that he can work on them and describe them.

2   He will catch the insect and let it go outside the house. He kills fleas because they are a pest.

3   It is an ecological theory meaning if you use more energy collecting food to feed yourself and your family than you get back from eating it, it isn’t worth it.

4   People don’t eat insects in cold countries because they say they are dirty and look strange. Also insects in the West are small so they aren’t worth eating. Insects in hot countries are large and swarm, so can be collected very easily. People have been doing this for millions of years.

5   He thinks a mealworm in a snack is a good way to start eating insects.

6   He cooked the crickets with some garlic, salt and pepper. He then gave them to the children who ate all of them.

7   The mother couldn’t believe her son had eaten crickets because he refuses to eat broccoli at home.


Interview with an entomologist – Part 3

I   Would you ever just kill an insect that was in your house?

G   Well, in my career I have killed millions of insects. As part of my work is, you, you have to collect them, uh, because you can’t name them or describe them or work on them unless you kill them. In my home, that’s a different thing. If it’s a, if it’s a bee that has come in by accident, or a wasp or something like that, I will catch it and outside it goes. Fleas, however, if you have a cat and you don’t control the fleas, are a bit of a pest and I will definitely get rid of the fleas.

I   Eating insects has recently become quite fashionable. Is it a realistic solution to the problem of world nutrition, or is it just a flash in the pan, for want of a better phrase?

G   I don’t think it’s a flash in the pan because you can farm them in, in, in a very easy way. And as long as you can make the food available in a palatable form, uh, I mean, I’ve, I’ve eaten insects for, for years and years, I fry them up and grind them into flour and make, you know, bread out of it. No, it, it isn’t a flash in the pan, um, we will have to to address this quite seriously in the next, you know, hundred or so years.

I   Why do we not eat insects in Europe?

G   In the West we, we tend to not eat insects and, and lots of people say it’s because insects are dirty or they look funny or whatever. It’s actually not anything to do with those things, it’s, it’s about ecology, it’s about a thing called “optimal foraging theory,” which simply says if you use up more energy collecting food to feed yourself and your family than you get back from eating it, it won’t happen, it’s, it’s not a thing that will, will occur in that area of the world. So in the West, where it’s cold and insects are relatively small, it’s, it’s not a very sensible idea. However, in hot countries where insects are larger and swarm and can be collected very, very easily, and that’s anywhere from Mexico, Japan, South America, you know, any of these countries, it makes sense. It’s very easy to harvest enough food, uh, in a relatively short time, half an hour, an hour, which will provide a, a sizeable meal. And it’s, it’s a thing that, that we’ve been doing as a species for a million years.

I   If you were trying to convert someone to insect-eating, what would be the first thing you would cook them?

G   Well, you, you would have to make the food appealing and interesting and, er, you know, attractive, so I would start with a, with a mealworm, er, in a snack! Roasted mealworms are awfully good!

I   How often do you cook insects?

G   As often as I can! I cook insects as often as I can! I, I like to open audiences’ eyes to the possibility of eating insects. We eat prawns, we eat lots of things, you know, snails, but I mean, insects are essentially flying prawns. OK, they, they tend to be smaller. But I, I had an audience once in, in Oxford of 200 eight-, eight- to twelve-year-olds and at, at the end of my lecture I cooked up a big wok of, of crickets, fried them up with some garlic and a bit of salt and pepper, handed them round, and the kids went wild! They, they ate the whole lot. From the back of the audience came a mum with a face like thunder, and she came down to the front of the, of the auditorium and said, “My son’s just eaten six crickets!” I went, “Yeah, and your point is?” She was like, “At home he doesn’t even eat broccoli.” And I just went…I said, “Well, clearly it’s the way you cook your broccoli.”

Exercise 2

A. Listen to five people talking about animals. Who (Je, A, S, Ja, or K) saw an animal or a group of animals…?

___ that really impressed them by the elegant way it moved

___ that were much larger than expected

___ that were recovering from injuries

___ completely unexpectedly, while they were traveling across the country

___ despite having been warned that they probably wouldn’t see any

B. Listen again. Who mentions an animal that they would like to see in the wild rather than a place they would like to visit? What places do the other four people mention?



Karen saw an animal which really impressed her by the elegant way it moved.

Sarah saw a group of animals that were much larger than expected.

Jenny saw a group of animals that were recovering from injuries.

James saw an animal completely unexpectedly, while they were traveling across the country.

Alex saw an animal despite having been warned that they probably wouldn’t see any.



Jenny mentions Japan.

Alex mentions East Africa.

Sarah mentions South Africa.

Karen mentions Madagascar.


I = Interviewer, Je = Jenny, A = Alex, S = Sarah, Ja = James, K = Karen


 What’s the most interesting animal that you’ve ever seen in the wild?

 I think the most interesting animal I’ve ever seen in the wild is an elephant. It was in Thailand, actually, at an elephant sanctuary where we got to bathe them and pet them.

 Why did it make such an impression on you?

J   Uh, the sanctuary, uh, was for rehabilitating elephants that were injured in the wild, um, but they actually allowed them to just roam around free, uh, so it was really impressive.

 Is there anywhere you would particularly like to go to see animals or the natural world?

 Yes. I would love to go to Japan to see the snow monkeys.


I   What’s the most interesting wild animal that you’ve ever seen in the wild?

A   Um, an orangutan. Yeah, an orangutan. Certainly.

I   Where was that?

A   In Borneo. In the Malaysian part of Borneo.

I   Why did it make such an impression on you?

A   Uh, simply because we’d gone there specially to see them. It was one of my favorite animals. But, we’d been told the chances of seeing them in the wild were very slim, uh, and so I’d kind of lowered my expectations and when we did actually get to see one, it was very, very exciting and unexpected.

 Is there anywhere you would particularly like to go to see animals or the natural world?

A   Oh, um, yes. Uh, I’d, I’d really like to go to, uh, East Africa. Uh, to see the kind of, the mountains, around there. Uh, it’s a part of the world I’ve not been to and I’d really like to go and explore that.


I   What’s the most interesting wild animal that you’ve ever seen in the wild?

 Uh, the most interesting animals I’ve seen are giant sea turtles. It was in Hawaii.

I   Why did it make such an impression on you?

 They’re just so big! They’re huge! You see them on TV but never in real life.

I   Is there anywhere you’d particularly like to go to see animals or the natural world?

 Hmm, I think I’d like to go to South Africa and go on a safari.


 What’s the most interesting animal that you’ve ever seen in the wild?

J   Um, I saw a giraffe once. I mean, it’s not that interesting I suppose, but I did see it in the wild.

 Where was that?

J   That was in Ethiopia, in northern Ethiopia.

 Why did it make such an impression on you?

J   I think because I wasn’t expecting to see it. I was, uh, hitchhiking on the back of a, a truck, uh, and we were driving just through, um, the countryside, and suddenly we saw a giraffe running along the side of the truck and it was, it was kind of amazing, um, so I suppose that’s why it was, you know, pretty good to see.

I   Is there anywhere you would particularly like to go to see animals or the natural world?

J   Um, I’ve always wanted to see whales in the wild. Um, I’ve never, I’ve never had the chance to do it, but it looks just so amazing, the, the size of them. Um, so I’d like to do that, yeah


 What’s the most interesting wild animal that you’ve ever seen in the wild?

K   The most interesting animal I’ve seen in the wild? Um, that would be a tiger in a national park in India, so, um, it’s very rare that you can actually, um, spot them, so I was very fortunate enough to, um, just to see one and just the grace of the movement and the awareness of, you know, everything around him or her, um, was extraordinary.

I   Is there anywhere you would particularly like to go to see animals or the natural world?

K   Madagascar. I’d love to see, um, animals in the natural world there. I’ve seen, um, a few David Attenborough documentaries, um, it’s like, “I want to go there now.”

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