Singing about phylogeny

My friend mdvlist sent me the link to some rather odd educational materials, called “Lyrical Life Science.” They’re folk songs set to familiar tunes, but the lyrics are all biology. I realize that folk songs about science have a storied history. But these are kinda weird – like “Sirenians” set to “Drunken Sailor,” or “Oh Bacteria” set to “Oh Susanna” (“though lacking any nucleus, you do have a cell wall. . . “)

mdvlist claims that the kids in her party LOVED these CDs, although she was not impressed by the quality of the music. Nor was I – in fact, I couldn’t understand half of what they are saying in the sample clips, and I know all these terms already! Can kids really follow

to the tune of “Listen to the Mockingbird”

How they move is how you know
Into which group they will go
Here are four groups with some examples
So you’ll understand how they are classified

Protozoa, also called protista,
They’re microscopic and are single-celled
Protozoa, also called protista
They’re microscopic and are single-celled

Amoebas are a sarcodine
Pseudopods to move are seen
False feet arrange the shape to change
And remember that the sarcodines are called

All around the paramecia
You can see some moving cilia
Tiny hairs are wiggling there
And remember that the ciliates are called

Without getting it all hopelessly garbled? Will it end up sounding like nonsense to them? Who knows. But I probably shouldn’t criticize anything that gets kids thinking about biology. After all, I learned about monotremes from They Might Be Giants’ “Mammal:”

Placental the sister of
Her brother marsupial
Their cousin called monotreme
Dead uncle allotheria. . .

I used to play this song, with its long list of various types of mammals, in my biology classes because it illustrates how Mammalia, a relatively small phylogenetic group, recieves a disproportionate amount of human beings’ attention. Most of the living animals kids think of are, in fact, mammals (mostly placental) – even though mammals constitute only about 5,400 of the 1.8 million or so named species (there are three times as many species of marine fish as mammals, and twice as many birds as mammals).

There is a boo boo in this amateur video, near the end – did you catch it? It shows how easy it is to mishear a lyric, even when it’s relatively clearly phrased.


  1. #1 kevin z
    August 31, 2008

    Well, you haven’t been paying enough attention! For instance I did Oh bacteria for Microbe Week at Deep Sea News, also did Don’t Fear The Microbe set to the classic Blue Oyster Cult tune; No Tuna, Yes Cry to a Bob Marley song; Reef City to a classic Gram Parsons; Wayfarin Mollusk set to a Johnny Cash & June Carter classic and Solitary Coral to Neil Diamond… just ot name a few. Of course there was the blog classic Sea Squirts Just Wanna Have Fun set to well, I’m sure you can guess it. 😉

  2. #2 Laurence Frabotta
    September 2, 2008

    Be sure to check out Mark Isaak’s “Modern Entomologist” to Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Major-General Song” from Pirate of Penzance. Very creative.

    Lyrics here:

  3. #3 Janeen
    September 2, 2008

    The BEST ever is this:
    The Brain singing about the parts of …. the brain!

  4. #4 Jessica Palmer
    September 5, 2008

    Oh dear. I can tell I’m going to have to spend an hour or more listening to science music. . . (closing door to office and pretending to work). Kevin, you’re out of control over there!

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