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How do you prepare a skeleton? What are dermestid beetles? What's it like to work in a museum? We answer these questions and more with Emily Graslie!

The Good Stuff comes to you in playlists of videos covering many styles and topics all around a theme. This week's theme: HALLOWEEN!

Emily Graslie of The Brain Scoop shows us how much she loves skeletons, flesh eating beetles, and dead things in general.

special thanks to
Emily Graslie (
The Field Museum

music by
Jason Shaw (
Jake Chudnow (
Driftless Pony Club (
Ryan Wolff

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The Good Stuff elsewhere:

Produced by
Craig Benzine, Sam Grant, Matt Weber, David Wolff and Ryan Wolff

Craig Benzine: Emily Graslie has a YouTube show called The Brain Scoop that she does out of The Field Museum in Chicago, and it's all about dead things, and this might get a little gross, but I talk to her about it.  Let's check it out.  You should be in color guard.

Person: I wanted to be but my parents wouldn't let me!

Craig: Hello, Emily Graslie.

Emily: Hi, Craig! 

Craig: How are ya?

Emily: I'm great, how are you?

Craig: I'm good, where are we right now?

Emily: We are in the Mammal Mezzanine of the Field Museum in Chicago, where they do a lot of alcohol specimen preparation for mammals specifically. 

Craig: Scary looking stuff. 

Emily: They're not gonna hurt you, though, I mean, provided you don't, like, cork open one and start drinking.

Craig: Yeah, yeah, that probably would hurt me.

Emily: That would probably kill you, actually.

Craig: Oh, okay.  These are real skeletons behind us?

Emily: Yeah, these are real skeletons.

Craig: Wow.

Emily: I think a lot of people, when they think of museums, assume that they're just exhibits, but only 1% of the specimens are actually on public display.  A lot of what happens in museums is behind the scenes research and it goes on all day, every day here. 

Craig: How many specimens are there here at the Field Museum?

Emily: There are 25 million.

Craig: 25 million?

Emily: 25 million.

Craig: That can't be--you meant like 1,000?

Emily: No, there's 25 million. 

Craig: 25 million specimens.  How did you get a job here?

Emily: I actually got a job here through my own YouTube channel called The Brain Scoop, which we started at The University of Montana Zoological Museum.  I was a volunteer there and I did a lot of specimen preparation, so essentially, I cleaned roadkill.  Then, I met Hank Green, and he was like, hey, you look like you'd have fun on YouTube, and I said maybe okay, that sounds good, and then I moved here in July when the Field Museum got wind.  I love it, I love it so much,  I get so excited about my job, there's no--like, I literally jump out of bed in the morning.  I used to love sleeping a lot, and now I'm like 'who has time to sleep when all this awesome is happening, like, I'm gonna go clean an anteater today!'  It's just endless amounts of like, fascinating things that I learn every day, I really want to share that with the rest of the world.  I'm not a scientist.  I graduated with an art degree and got into this late in life, and this is--

Craig: You're not a scientist?

Emily: No. 

Craig: Get out of here, guys. 

Emily: *groans*

Craig: This is Halloween week.

Emily: Yeah!

Craig: That's why we came here, we thought, you know, dead things, skeletons, things in jars, its kinda scary stuff, to a lot of people. 

Emily: Yeah, we do have some weird stuff. On the table, we've got a six-legged cat and a cyclops deer.

Craig: Whaaaat?

Emily: We have a couple colonies, upstairs, of Dermestid beetles, and Dermestid beetles are affectionately referred to as "the flesh eating beetles"

Person: Can we see it?

Emily: Yeah, we could probably pop up there.

Craig: That'd be awesome.

Person: So why are we, why are we all standing in here?

Emily: Because we need to make sure both doors are secure before you open this one so they don't get out.

Craig: Oh, so the bugs don't get out.

Emily: So the bugs don't get out. 

Craig: Oh.

Emily: Yeah.  The bugs can't get out.

Craig: And that's happened before?

Emily: Yeah, unfortunately, yeah.

Craig: It smells. 

Emily: Yeah.

Craig: Kind of an interesting smell. 

Emily: So, if you think like, how are you going to get a nice, clean, white skeleton, you're going to first remove all of the major organs and skin and muscle, and then put it in the beetles, and the beetles can get into every little nook and cranny and clean off all of the muscle that's left over, and eventually, you put that in the freezer, the beetles die off, and then you--voila! 

Craig: A lot of people would be very repulsed by that process, I would think.

Emily: I mean, it's a pretty sweet place, though.

Person: Can you get that down there?  It just sounds like--it sounds like rice krispies.

Emily: Yeah.

Craig: Alright, everyone, quiet for a second. 

Craig: Do you ever go home and find a beetle on you?

Emily: No, because if I did, that would--that would be bad.  It meant it got out of the double sealed doors.  The thing to be afraid of the most about the beetles is if they get out.  It's terrible for the collections.  They'll get into like, the skin collections, and they'll--or they'll get into like a case with a old skull and they'll just start eating everything.

Craig: Oh.

Person: Why wouldn't they hurt a living human?

Emily: When you die, you give off certain hormones and like, smells and pheromones that attracts the beetles.

Craig: Okay.

Emily: So as long as you're not dead, you're probably not giving off the scents.

Craig: Some days, maybe I am. 

Emily: I would be concerned about that.  Because there's part of your body that's decaying, Craig, you should be--you should be concerned.

Craig: Alright.  I think I've revealed too much.  Why do you think people are afraid of dead things?

Emily: I think it's just misunderstanding, or you know, it's like a fear of the greater unknown, but I also think people are afraid they're gonna catch a disease or they're gonna get really ill or they're gonna injure themself and like, then, they're gonna catch the dead from the dead that they're working on.  I'm not going to touch a black widow, right, I'm not going to go out and find a venomous spider or snake and like, handle it, but once you learn more about what species are and are not venomous and which one's will and won't bite you, there's not a lot to be afraid of.  These aren't, like, mummies that are going to be resurrected and chase you, they're not like scarab beetles that are gonna come to life and burrow under your skin or whatever you've seen in movies.

Craig: This guy hasn't moved yet.

Emily: Yeah, not--not yet.  He's just hanging out. 

Craig: Yeah.

Emily: He's cool.

Craig: Yeah.

Emily: He's been here since the '30s just hanging out.

Craig: And he hasn't even moved?

Emily: No, not once, unless somebody moves him.

Craig: Yeah, well.

Emily: If people approach this thinking like you're not just studying something that is dead, you are studying something that is an example of life, you know.  We study the dead to learn more about the living is really what it comes down to, and know that the more you understand what's in front of you, the more you can understand what's out there. 

Craig: Thank you, thanks so much.

Emily: Yeah, thank you so much.  Yeah.

Craig: Thanks for talking with us, Emily.  Her channel, The Brain Scoop, linked in the doobly-doo, and thank you to all the dead animals for donating their bodies to science.  Up next, we made a horror movie.  It's quite scary, right, Matt?  Right?  Scary?  What are you doing? 

Matt: I think I ate too much candy.