QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Sandi Toksvig. Copyright: TalkbackThames


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2024
  • 312 episodes (21 series)

Panel game that contains lots of difficult questions and a large amount of quite interesting facts. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

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Series U, Episode 8 - 'U' Animals

QI. Lara Ricote
Sandi and Alan are joined by Lara Ricote, Ahir Shah and Rhod Gilbert to look at some animals beginning with the letter U.


- The buzzers are all the sound of ungulates. Ahir has a cow, Lara a goat, Rhod a camel, and Alan the song 'Crazy Horses' by The Osmonds.


- The ungulate with the most useful urine is the blue whale. While whales have no hooves themselves, but the common ancestor of all hoofed mammals includes whales and dolphins. This ancestor lived 60 million years ago, and thus there are now several groups today which do not have hooves. In 2019, a fossil was found of a four-legged whale with hooves was discovered in Peru. It was a semi-aquatic creature 42.6 metres long. Blue whale urine is important for the health of the oceans, as it is high in levels of ammonia, phosphorus and nitrogen. One blue whale produces 1,200 litres of urine per day. The urine helps to feed coral reefs, helps seagrass meadows and all other underwater ecosystems. It also helps phytoplankton, which creates about half of the world's oxygen, and provides food for krill and small fish. Blue whales also travel great distances in what is known as the Great Whale Conveyor Belt.

- Tangent: Discussing the usefulness of the urine, Rhod says he gets ear infections, and his wife constantly suggesting urinating into the ear to help cure it. She claims her grandmother used this to cure ear infections in her family.

- Tangent: Cow urine is used in many countries for medicinal purposes. In India, there are Hindu organisations that believe cow urine is a form of cure all. The Cow Commission of India produced a leaflet in 2021 saying the urine is good for diseases of the eye and the abdomen, treating leprosy, asthma and cancer - the last of which leads cancer patient Rhod to jokingly ask if he can try it. Sandi gets out a pair of bottles of Indian cow urine for the panel to examine. In Australia, they claim that the best way to cure the sting from a box jellyfish is to urinate on it. Lara says her father urinated on her leg when she was stung by a jellyfish, but they later found out vinegar also works. Sandi points out that actually the best thing to use is seawater, which there is a lot of when you tend to get stung by a jellyfish. Camel urine is so viscous it is has the consistency of maple syrup, and in the Arabian Peninsula it has been used medicinally for centuries, with a pregnant female being the best to use.

- The panel are shown a picture of what appears to be a white bear hiding behind a tree and are asked what kind of bear it is. It is actually a black bear with white fur. It is known are a Kermode, or a spirit bear, and is a variant of the American black bear. It has a recessive gene which turns the fur white, but they have full pigmentation, so it is not a form of albinism. They are found in the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada. The bears carry salmon carcasses deep into the forest, meaning the forest floor gets all the nutrients from the ocean, which is effectively transferred to the trees. Advantages to being a white bear are that it makes it harder for salmon to see you against a blue sky. It is also illegal to hunt white bears. There are about 400 in the wild.

- Tangent: When Sandi asks what the advantages of being a white bear are, Rhod asks if Sandi is seriously asking what the advantage is of being white. Ahir says that as soon as he spotted Rhod leaning forward, he thought: "Rhod's got there first." Rhod jokingly replies: "Well, as is my prerogative."

- The underwater creature with the most teeth is the umbrella slug (Umbraculum umbraculum). It has over 10,000 teeth, and in its lifetime it will go through 750,000 teeth or even more. By comparison, the toothiest shark only has a few hundred in its mouth at any one time, and will grow about 30,000 more in its lifetime. The slug's teeth are made out of long ribbons of chitin, and the slug's mouth is at the bottom of its foot. It is in a cleft which opens up as it crawls on top of sea sponges. Thus, they can scrape food off the floor, and the teeth are constantly worn down, being replaced by an ever-growing chitinous conveyor belt.

- XL Tangent: The umbrella octopus has no teeth. They can swallow small fish and worms whole. They live deeper than other octopuses, so they have lost their ability to squirt ink; because it so dark at those levels that there is no need for it. They are also known as "adorabilis".

- XL: The panel are asked what it is like being an owl. It would be quite noisy, because of their concave faces which allow them to hear noises, even underground. The reason the question was asked was because of something called "umwelt", the idea that every single living being on the planet has its own unique way of understanding its surroundings. We can objectively analyse the sense that an owl has, but we could never really know what it is like to be an owl. "Umwelt" means "environment" in German, and the idea comes from 20th century zoologist called Jakob von Uexkll, although Ahir points out it has similarities to Hinduism, with the ideas of maya, the subjective illusions of reality that surround us, and having the true knowledge of vidya.

- XL Tangent: Florence Nightingale carried a pet owl with her, leading to Rhod to ask why she is called "The lady with the lamp", as the owl would have been more memorable. The phrase was in fact entirely made up by a Times journalist, and no-one ever called Nightingale "The lady with the lamp". She was known by an entirely different name by the men she helped. Nightingale was appalled to discovers that only officers were being given medicines, and the medicines were being kept in a cabinet. She was so angry about this than she smashed the cabinet's lock off with a hammer, and gave the medicines out to the soldiers. Thus the men called her "The lady with the hammer".

- XL: Dogs might struggle to play poker because they are colour-blind. Dogs are red-green colour-blind, and have close to a 20-75 vision. If dogs could drive, they would be legally required to wear glasses.

- XL Tangent: Lara wears hearing aids, and thus she knows that she hears in the way people are supposed to hear. However, we will know exactly is Lara hears what other people hear.

- The thing the governor of Uganda found on his unicorn hunt was the okapi. Sir Henry Hamilton Johnston desperately wanted to find a unicorn from a very early age. Henry Morton Stanley had referred to a creature called an "atti" by locals, and Johnston wondered if this was Africa's unicorn. In 1899, he apprehended a German man who had kidnapped some members of the Mbuti tribe, and he heard them talking about this creature which looked a bit like a zebra, had a dark upper brown body, and they called it an "okapi". Johnston never found one, but the Belgian authorities did, and they sent the full skin and skull of an okapi to him. The okapi is the only living relative of the giraffe. (Forfeit: A unicorn)

- Tangent: The Asian unicorn, the saola, was discovered in 1992. It is a forest-dwellng bovine, found in the Annamite mountain range of Laos. It is called a "unicorn" because it is so rare, rather than the fact it has one horn. The best way to find a saola is to find some leeches and examine the blood in their bellies in the hope that they have recently sucked on saola blood.

- Tangent: People have been looking for unicorns for over 3,500 years. In the 15th century BC, the female Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut sent a fleet of ships out to the land of Punt (probably Somalia) to find one. Lara asks what is the point in trying to find a unicorn, leading Alan to suggest that people are constantly looking for things that don't exist, like the yeti or aliens, because if the world is finite, then what is the point? Sandi says it is the thing that gets you up in the morning. For her, it will be that one day she will find a country with equal pay.

- XL: The use that ancient Britons found for a 150ft horse was carving it into the side of a hill. The Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire is over 3,000 years old. Some people think it might have been either a dog or a dragon. The hill the carving is on is called White Horse Hill. One reason given for the carving was because it provided a ritualistic centre for the local community. The next-oldest chalk horse carving is the Westbury White Horse, which is only about 300 years old. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the Uffington White Horse had scouring festivals every seven years where the community would celebrate with things like greasy pole climbing and cheese rolling. Today it is looked after by the National Trust. During the Second World War, the horse was covered with turf to prevent the Germans from using it as a navigational aid.

- The bit of your body where you would get the most benefit from rubbing udder balm. Bag balm was invented to be used on the chafed udders of cows, but it became really popular with people. Beautician Janice Qualkenbush said in an article for the LA Times in 1994 that bag balm reduces wrinkles and smoothes out rough spots. Famous people who regularly use bag balm include Shania Twain, while cyclists use it to stop chaffing, and soldiers during used it during the Second World War to stop their weapons from corroding. Today, advertising for bag balm makes no references to cows or udders. Bag balm is made from lanolin, which is taken from sheep wool, and is then mixed with petroleum jelly. (Forfeit: Your udders)

- XL Tangent: Cow udders are unusual because there have four teats. Broadly speaking, the number of teats a mammal has is roughly double the common litter size. For example, humans normally give birth to one child at a time, so we have two teats. Cows also give birth to one calf at a time, but they have four teats. This is because udders are so heavy that they need extra suspension in order to hold them together, divided into four compartments with two ligaments. The stomach of a cow makes up 75% of their abdomen, so the milk has to be held outside. You can cut a hole into the side of a cow and see the grass inside.

General Ignorance

- Hollow bones help birds fly by being stronger. The bones have a crisscross structure which results in the bones having large air pockets. These gaps allow oxygen to flow throughout the body and it gives more oxygen to the blood, thus giving more energy to help the bird fly. A study by a woman named Elizabeth Dumont, a bat specialist from the University of Massachusetts, examined the density of various bones of similar sized songbirds, rodents, bats etc. and she found that birds had the densest bones, followed by the bats and then rodents. Bird bones are thus heavier but sturdier. (Forfeit: They make them lighter)

- The thing that causes the holes in Swiss cheese is hay. Most people think wrongly the holes are caused by carbon dioxide from bacteria, but it is actually caused by tiny bits of hay falling into the milk bucket. The hay weakens the cheese curds as they ripen, causing the spaces. Today, the dairies are more hygienic, thus not causing as many holes, so the hay is now added on purpose to produce more holes.

- XL Tangent: These is a Swedish cheese called Vasterbpttensost, which to make requires alternate period of stirring and rest. It was invented in 1872 by a diary maid called Ulrika Eleonora Lindstrom, who kept getting distracted from her work in order to have amorous encounters with her lover.

- The animal that is most likely to survive a nuclear bomb is a bdelloid rotifer. While cockroaches can survive 15 times the amount of radiation that humans can, these microscopic underwater creatures can withstand 100 times the lethal amount of radiation. They are all female, reproduce asexually, have not had sex for 25 million years, and are a quarter of a millimetre long. They cope with the radiation by having a really slow cell cycle. In June 2021, scientists brought back to life some bdelloid rotifers which had been frozen in the Siberian permafrost for 24,000 years. In it they also found a mould called Cladosporium sphaerospermum, which absorbs radiation in order to grow. NASA have been experimenting to create a protective outer layer for spacesuits that could shield astronauts from cosmic rays. (Forfeit: Cockroach)

- If you have a wooden spoon and metal spoon on you, both will be the same temperature because they are in the same room. According to the law of thermodynamics, if two bodies are in equilibrium with a third body, they must be in equilibrium with each other. If you pick the spoons up, then according to the second law of thermodynamics, the heat will naturally flow from a warmer area to a colder area. Because the metal spoon is a better conductor of heat and your hands are warm, the heat from your hands will flow more readily into the metal spoon, and thus it will feel colder. (Forfeit: Metal; Wood)


- Ahir Shah: -6 points
- Rhod Gilbert: -7 points
- Alan Davies: -23 points
- Lara Ricote: -35 points


The XL version of the episode debuted first.

Broadcast details

Tuesday 20th February 2024
45 minutes


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Friday 23rd February 2024 10:00pm BBC2

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Rhod Gilbert Guest
Ahir Shah Guest
Lara Ricote Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Will Bowen Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
Mike Turner Researcher
Jack Chambers Researcher
James Rawson Researcher
Lydia Mizon Researcher
Miranda Brennan Researcher
Tara Dorrell Researcher
Henry Eliot Researcher
Leying Lee Researcher
Manu Henriot Researcher
Joe Mayo Researcher
Emily Jupitus Question Writer
Production team
Diccon Ramsay Director
Piers Fletcher Producer
John Lloyd Executive Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Gemma O'Sullivan Lighting Designer
Howard Goodall Composer
Aran Kharpal Graphics
Helen Ringer Graphics
Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor


Which spoon is colder?

The panel learn about thermodynamics.

Featuring: Sandi Toksvig, Alan Davies, Lara Ricote, Ahir Shah & Rhod Gilbert.

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