BBC 6 minute English-Bats: Friend or foe

BBC 6 minute English-Bats: Friend or foe



Transcript of the podcast

Note: This is not a word-for-word transcript

.Neil: Hello. This is 6 Minute English from BBC Learning English. I’m Neil

.Sam: And I’m Sam

Neil: For centuries the relationship between humans and bats has been complex. In some cultures, bats are depicted as vampires, associated with Halloween, witches and dark, scary places. In others, they are considered messengers of the gods

Sam: Bats play an important part in stories and myths from around the world. And a large illuminated bat signal shining in the night sky can mean only one thing – a call for help to the superhero, Batman

Neil: So do we love or hate these furry flying mammals? And with some newspaper headlines identifying bats as the possible source of Covid-19, should we think of them as friend or enemy

Sam: We’ll be answering all these questions soon, but first, Neil, time for another interesting bat fact. Did you know that bats account for 1 in 5 of all mammal species? There’s a huge variety of them, from tiny fruit-eating bats that fit into the palm of your hand to giant carnivores, or meat-eaters, with nearly two-metre wingspans

Neil: That’s right. In fact, it’s the variety of bat types that might explain our complex feelings towards them. So, Sam, my quiz question is this: roughly how many different species of bat are there worldwide? Is it

?a) one and a half thousand
,b) two and a half thousand? or
?c) three and a half thousand

.Sam: Hmmm, I’ll say b) two and a half thousand

Neil: OK, Sam, we’ll come back to that later in the programme. Maybe not everyone likes them, but bats do have some friends. Farmers love them for pollinating their plants

Sam: …and medical scientists study them hoping to discover the secrets of their anti-ageing and long life

Neil: Dr Winifred Frick is the chief scientist at Bat Conservation International, a group of environmentalists working to protect bats

Sam: Here she is telling BBC World Service programme, The Documentary, about another useful service provided by bats in the United States

Dr Winifred Frick

Most bats are insectivorous and they’re really important consumers of different kinds of insect pests and here in the United States it’s been estimated that bats provide billions of dollars every year to the US agricultural industry through their voracious consumption of agricultural pest insects

.Neil: Most bats eat only insects – they’re insectivores

Sam: That’s good news for farmers because they eat many pests – insects or small animals that are harmful or damage crops

.Neil: Even better, bats’ appetite for these annoying insects is voracious – very strong and eager

Sam: So far, so good in the friendship between humans and bats. But then along came the coronavirus pandemic and with it, newspaper reports that bats might be to blame

Neil: Before we get into this, we need to explain some terms. The Covid which people around the world have been suffering from is the ‘outbreak virus’. But if you go backwards there’s an intermediary known as the ‘progenitor virus’ between this and the ‘ancestral virus’, which is decades or centuries older

Sam: Ninety-nine percent of scientists would agree that the ‘ancestral virus’ of Covid-19 came from bats. But it’s the go-between ‘progenitor virus’ that everyone is searching for now

Neil: One of the scientists leading this search is Linfa Wang, a professor at Duke Medical School who is known as the ‘Batman of Singapore’. Here he is explaining his work to BBC World Service’s, The Documentary

Prof Linfa Wang

Of course the holy grail right now for Covid-19 is to discover where is that progenitor virus and also in which kind of animals or humans, right? And usually, the progenitor virus has to be 99.9% identical to the outbreak virus and so our study was set up to do that. If you can catch that virus and you demonstrate the genomic sequence is 99.9% [identical] then that’s brilliant

Sam: Professor Wang thinks that finding the source of Covid-19’s ‘progenitor virus’ would be like finding the holy grail. This expression – the holy grail – is associated with the cup believed to have been used by Jesus Christ at his last meal. It means something extremely difficult to find or get

Neil: If you can discover the ‘progenitor virus’ then, in the words of Professor Wang – that’s brilliant! – an exclamation meaning ‘that’s very good!’ or amazing

Sam: So although bats are sometimes, wrongly, blamed for causing Covid, they are good friends to farmers, environmentalists and scientists – as well as vampires! Are bats friend or foe? You decide. So anyway, what was the answer to your quiz question, Neil

Neil: Ah yes, I asked Sam: How many different species of bat are there around the world? What did you say

?Sam: I said there were, b) two and a half thousand different species of bats. Was I right

Neil: You were close, Sam, but the correct answer was… a) there are one and a half thousand different species of bats around the world. With so many I guess some of them might be friendlier than others

Sam: Let’s recap the vocabulary from this programme about the relationship between humans and bats, starting with carnivores which are animals that eat meat

.Neil: Insectivores, meanwhile, are animals, like most bats, that eat only insects

.Sam: A pest is an insect or small animal that is harmful or damages crops

.Neil: Bats eat pests voraciously, or very eagerly

.Sam: The holy grail refers to something that’s extremely difficult to find or get

!Neil: And finally, you can use the phrase, that’s brilliant! to say, ‘that’s great!’ or amazing

Sam: Once again our six minutes are up. See you again soon for more topical chats and trending vocabulary here at 6 Minute English

Neil: And don’t forget you can download our app to find programmes on many more topics, from African animals to zodiac signs and zombies, all here on the BBC Learning English website. Bye for now

!Sam: Bye bye

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